News

Parents of preschoolers scrambling after state budget cutbacks

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

Hundreds of preschoolers may lose their organized early childhood education as a result of budget cuts at Highline Community College.

The college is eliminating part-time teaching positions and ending its affiliation with 10 cooperative preschools in south King County. The relationship has enabled the preschools to afford insurance; without insurance, they’d have to close.

A group of parents of the affected children staged a rally Wednesday at Steel Lake Park in Federal Way as part of an effort to convince Highline officials to maintain the program for one more year while the preschools try to reorganize. They’ve also formally asked the college by letter to reconsider.

But the college administration’s “very difficult decision” is final, said Michael Allen, dean of instruction for professional and technical education.

He said that because of reductions in state spending, HCC had to cut $1 million from its own budget. Included in that savings is $84,000 in salary and benefits for the part-time early-childhood faculty.

Highline has been paying the insurance premiums and getting repaid by the co-ops.

HCC is “looking into” other ways the preschools might obtain lower-cost insurance, Allen said.

Stacy Shaw, a member of the board of directors of the Rainbow’s End Cooperative Preschool in Federal Way, said insurance is the biggest incentive for maintaining ties with HCC.

“We don’t need their instructors. We can contract out for instructors,” she said. She noted that Highline’s faculty mostly observes and instructs the teachers that co-ops already hire.

The objective of the co-ops is to give early-childhood education –– a key to long-term educational success for children, local and national experts say –– at inexpensive prices to families that otherwise can’t afford it. Tuition varies a little from preschool to preschool, but all are close to the $67 for three days a week and $77 for four days that Rainbow’s End charges, Shaw said.

She estimated 300 to 400 children attend the HCC-affiliated preschools. Her daughter, who attended Rainbow’s End for three years, will begin kindergarten next fall, and Shaw planned on her 3-year-old son going there in the fall. She isn’t sure if there will be other preschool options for him, but she said she’ll at least be able to stay home with him, since she doesn’t work.

Green River Community College in Auburn and Bates Technical College in Tacoma are possible sources for a new insurance arrangement for the co-ops, but they have their own preschool programs, Shaw said.

Spokesman John Ramsey said Green River’s existing co-op affiliations are safe. “We’re not cutting any programs,” he said, adding that GRCC plans to make up for any budget cuts by raising student tuition as approved by the Legislature.

Without Highline as their umbrella organization, the co-ops won’t be able to operate, according to Shaw. “We don’t have time to find another one before next year,” she said.

Most of the preschools are based in churches. One is housed at Highline’s main campus in Des Moines.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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