The discussion over whether the Haines School should house the private Chilkat Valley Preschool continued at a school board workshop Wednesday. The board seemed divided between two desires: on one hand, to listen to school staff who say they’re already squeezed for space, and on the other, to help the organization that fills an early childhood education gap in Haines.
The workshop was crowded with teachers from Haines School, along with parents and board members from the preschool. School Board President Anne Marie Palmieri opened the meeting by recognizing the tension.
“I just want to ask everybody to be respectful, this is an emotional issue,” she said.
The tone of the conversation was a shift from discussions near the end of last school year. That’s when the board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding that directed former Superintendent Ginger Jewell to explore the possibility of the preschool moving in.
Jewell resigned a few months later. Since Interim Superintendent Rich Carlson took over the job, he says he’s spent a lot of time on this subject.
“In the last two months I have put in 100, maybe 150 hours on this topic,” he said. “And I have talked to a huge number of people.”
Carlson acknowledged the importance of early childhood education, and the fact that the local Head Start program leaves some children out. Chilkat Valley Preschool fills that need.
But there are potential challenges with relocating the non-profit within the public school. Perhaps the greatest hurdle is space. Carlson said the least disruptive location for the preschool would be the superintendent’s office.
“By moving the preschool into the district office, the district office, the most likely place for it to be would be, would be to go into old district office, which is now occupied by a classroom, we teach three math classes in there and it serves also as special ed resource room. So those folks would have to move out.”
Essentially, the preschool taking one space would set off a domino effect of displacement.
Carlson said he was also concerned that if the board did approve the preschool move, it would hurt school staff morale.
“The staff have spoken out against this, even the students have spoken out against it,” he said. “And I believe it would be extremely demoralizing to the staff and it really would impact their trust.”
And then there’s the financial side. Carlson says there is no way the preschool can move into the building without any cost to the district. He gave some ballpark numbers — $8,000 for relocating and $15,000 to $16,000 each year for additional staff time, maintenance, and a loss of some federal funds.
“I don’t believe it can be done without having a significant financial impact on the district and I don’t think it can be done without disrupting the current educational program and displacing students and staff,” Carlson said.
When the superintendent was done with his presentation, Palmieri addressed the rest of the school board:
“Any questions? Any discussion?”
There was a long silence. This was not information that the members talked about when they initially OK’d the concept of the preschool moving in. Board member Sara Chapell said for her, the biggest issue is space.
“The cascade of where everybody would go, and so I appreciate that you’ve taken a look at that,” Chapell said. “I don’t know that everything has been done to think about what else could be moved around to make sure the impact to the students is as little as possible.”
Principal Rene Martin said classrooms and staff have to move around a lot, trying to utilize every little space.
“And it’s like every year we say ‘OK let’s hope we don’t have to move this year,'” Martin said. “And then we get a new special needs student, or this class ballooned in size, or we have to do a different set of testing pull outs.”
Martin said it’s a complicated, crowded puzzle. The board members said they don’t want to displace the students and teachers in the school. But outgoing board member Tiffany Dewitt said, what about the preschoolers’ displacement?
“I know we’re a school district and that’s what we should focus on,” Dewitt said. “But all those kids, if they’re displaced, where are they gonna go? How are they going to come into Kindergarten?”
The preschool is currently in the borough-owned human resources building. But the borough doesn’t want to keep maintaining the old building, so the assembly has given the preschool a deadline to move out.
The preschool supporters did not have a chance to speak at the workshop. Preschool board president Alissa Henrysaid the discussion was “really disappointing and disheartening.”
Henry says she understands the issue of space, but she says it’s about whether people think supporting the preschool is important enough.
“So it’s just a matter of if they felt like supporting the preschool education was important enough, they would do the move and people would deal with it and it works out and it’s fine,” Henry said. “But the feeling that I’m getting is that it’s not important enough.”
At the regular school board meeting Monday, the board will vote on whether to invite the preschool into the K-12 school.