Parents decry possible closure of Oakton preschool

 
 
Updated 11/21/2016 2:10 PM
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  • Oakton Community College officials have proposed the closure of the Early Childhood Center in Des Plaines due to funding issues. Many parents are upset with the decision.

    Oakton Community College officials have proposed the closure of the Early Childhood Center in Des Plaines due to funding issues. Many parents are upset with the decision. Courtesy of Mariusz Bronkowski

  • An observation room in Oakton Community College's preschool in Des Plaines allows students to view child care techniques. Officials have proposed the closure of the preschool, consolidating operations with a sister school in Skokie.

    An observation room in Oakton Community College's preschool in Des Plaines allows students to view child care techniques. Officials have proposed the closure of the preschool, consolidating operations with a sister school in Skokie. Courtesy of Mariusz Bronkowski

  • A sculpture on Oakton Community College's Des Plaines campus serves as a reminder of the Early Childhood Center inside. The preschool is proposed for closure under a cost-cutting move.

      A sculpture on Oakton Community College's Des Plaines campus serves as a reminder of the Early Childhood Center inside. The preschool is proposed for closure under a cost-cutting move. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

Parents are upset with plans to close Oakton Community College's preschool in Des Plaines as the college tries to tighten its purse strings in light of decreased state funding.

Some 30 families who send their children to Oakton's Early Childhood Center will have to find new day care centers after June if the school's recommendation is approved by its board of trustees.

"Preschools have never been profit centers," said Dan Roth, an Oakton English professor whose child attends the Des Plaines day care. "Preschools are an investment. Preschools are a public service. Oakton exists to serve the community. Closing the preschool may save money, but it's a shortsighted decision."

Roth was one of six parents to address college trustees at a board meeting last week. It's unknown when the board will take a final vote.

Oakton officials say the Des Plaines preschool has cost the college $100,000 more to operate than its sister location on Oakton's Skokie campus. Both locations serve about 30 children ages 3 to 5, but the Des Plaines center also enrolls 2-year-olds.

The Des Plaines center's interim site coordinator, Monique Hudson, is against the move to close the location. She said she was shocked to hear the decision come down from her bosses with little input from her.

"I was told the decision was basically made and I was welcome to share any concerns, but it was pretty much a done deal," she said.

Hudson questioned the school's financial analysis of the Des Plaines location and said that, based on her calculations of enrollment data, the preschool could actually make $150,000 more than the Skokie location.

Families were informed of the possible closure in a Nov. 9 letter, though it didn't include any reasons for the decision. A subsequent letter sent days later acknowledged the considerable outcry from parents and provided some explanation.

"The college reviewed its mission, its academic needs, and its finances with care and consideration," wrote Bradley Wooten, Oakton's dean of social sciences and business. "The Early Childhood Centers are labs supporting Oakton's Early Childhood Education academic program, and the college has been able to sustain a center on each campus for a significant period of time.

"However, given our need to deal with a difficult financial climate, we can now only support one center."

Children of students, employees and community members make up the enrollment at the Des Plaines preschool. Many say they chose to send their kids there because of the high-quality programs, even if it costs more than an average day care.

For 2- to 3-year-olds who attend five days a week, tuition is $295 per week.

"A place comparable? You're not gonna find it," said Mariusz Bronkowski of Des Plaines, who sends his 2-year-old son to the preschool. "You're going to drop your kid off and feel safe. It's a high-quality day care center, and kids learn. It's not overcrowded. Everything is designed for those kids."

As a lab school for Oakton's Early Childhood Education program, the preschool this year hosted some 300 students who sat in the center's behind-glass observation booth to view child care techniques.

Oakton spokesman Paul Palian said students still will be able to do observations at the Skokie location and other preschools in the community.

"On the academic side, we can still serve our students with one lab," Palian said. "There's an obligation to taxpayers and students as well, from easing costs that gets translated to tuition somewhere down the line."

Oakton administrators plan to meet with parents Tuesday night to discuss the preschool's possible closure.

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