It’s a Wednesday morning and the sweet smell of freshly-made crepes wafts through the air. Soft couches abound and children’s books lie here and there. Outside a garden grows in the mist.
The Preschool Center at the Granary, located at the base of campus, feels more like a home than a place children go to spend the day away from their parents. Yet as of this January 1, 2010, the preschool, as well as child care services for UC Santa Cruz faculty and staff, will no longer exist.
Felicia McGinty, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, announced in August that UCSC had made the decision to eliminate the preschool at the Granary and on-campus child care services as a result of the program’s rising deficit and lack of supplementary campus funds. Child care services for UCSC students will remain but will be scaled back from 12 months to 10, and will no longer include infant care.
Kimberly Smith, a biology and environmental geology student, has a 4-year-old son named Keoni who attends preschool at the Granary.
“I’m crushed by it,” Smith said. “It didn’t seem like they offered any alternate solutions.”
Smith went on to say that Keoni will have to make three transitions this year: first to a different preschool in January, then to child care for summer, and finally to kindergarten next fall.
January Handl, who manages the college student teaching assistant program at the Granary, said that transitions complicate children’s strong attachment and stability, which are beneficial for brain development.
“The early years are incredibly important,” Handl explained. “As the brain is forming, children’s self-images are forming; their own ideas about learning are forming.”
Early Education Services at UCSC were created in the 1970s as a service for students only. The program later expanded to include faculty and staff and the preschool at the Granary, which was originally privately owned. Since then, satisfaction with the preschool has increased dramatically. The last parent survey measured 100 percent satisfaction, a very rare statistic.
UCSC’s child care program has strived to create model environments where the latest child development research can be put into practice. UCSC students, often from the psychology or sociology departments, serve as teaching assistants in the centers as part of a work-study program.
According to McGinty, care for children of faculty and staff was cut because it is not as self-supporting as student care. The majority of Early Education Services’ budget comes from student fees and state grants. The state subsidizes student child care because of students’ traditionally low incomes. Faculty and staff pay fees, but those fees make up a small portion of the program’s overall cost. This year, the program faced a deficit of at least $500,000 for a budget of over $2 million.
McGinty expressed that the decision to make these cuts was a very difficult one.
“The teachers work very hard and they really care about the children,” she said.
She also mentioned that UCSC considered trying to increase its funding of child care, but the campus simply doesn’t have any extra money. She reflected that the university always keeps its students’ interests at the forefront.
“Given that we’re in a fiscal crisis, our first priority is students,” McGinty said.
All other UC campuses have thus far managed to maintain child care for both students and faculty. They all use different models, sometimes involving a privately owned child care business that has a contract with the school.
Handl says that parents are concerned about finding child care in the community with similar quality and rates — and no waiting list. An added complication is that most faculty and staff have faced pay cuts this year between 4 and 10 percent. Staff members at Early Education Services expect to receive their layoff notices this week and estimate that half of the 30 employees will lose their jobs.
A group of faculty, staff and teachers submitted a proposal last week to create their own preschool that would be run like a nonprofit. Ideally the preschool would retain its location at the Granary and offer priority enrollment for UCSC faculty and staff.
McGinty said that Student Affairs is considering the proposal. But there is no word as to when a decision will be made. Regardless of the proposal, McGinty says she hopes that these cuts won’t be permanent and some day faculty and staff care can return.
Handl holds on to the possibility of having day care at the Granary continue.
“We do have a little tiny glimmer of hope,” she said.