By Ashly McGlone
SAN LEANDRO -- Preschooler Cesar Vazquez stood at the front of the class fielding questions from his excitable peers about his decorated poster board. He was the "Star of the Week," an honor periodically bestowed on children enrolled at Broadmoor Preschool in San Leandro.
As the children sat attentively on a rainbow-colored rug listening to Cesar describe a photo of his family vacation, every corner of the room quietly teemed with activity as parents hurriedly prepared the day's crafts, lunch and activities.
At 74-year-old Broadmoor Preschool, parents do more than drop off and pick up their children. It is a cooperative preschool part of the San Leandro Adult School that provides education to both children and parents. Parents commit to spend one day a week in the classroom, attend nighttime parenting classes twice a month and spend three hours doing maintenance work at the school each trimester.
Now the school with a wait list could lose the $15,000 in adult school funding it receives each year, forcing it to increase its fees beyond its family's budgets, said Dale Gregory, co-director at Broadmoor.
New legislation proposed earlier this year by Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada, would prohibit California's adult schools from spending its funds on the preschools and other parenting classes, as well as home economics and classes specifically for older adults.
Proponents say the bill aims to focus in on the primary functions of adult education, such as GED and English learner courses, and could help keep what's left of the adult schools in the K-12 system, rather than community college as proposed by the governor, while increasing accountability.
Cooperative preschools like Broadmoor and other parenting classes could still exist, whether in the K-12 or community college system, but would need to find funding elsewhere from grants, fees or other outside sources.
That would be a tall order for Broadmoor, said San Leandro Adult School Principal Bradley Frazier.
"It would be very difficult to do because as the economy tanked, moneys from all sources are harder to find," he said, adding, "there is more competition for private grants and private funding."
Many adult schools sustained drastic budget cuts when the state gave districts the flexibility to spend their adult school funds on other needs in 2009, an option still in place today.
As a result, some of the adult schools in the region switched to fee-only funding for their cooperative preschools and parenting classes in recent years. Results were mixed.
In Fremont, the shift to fee-only funding for the adult school's once- and twice-a-week parenting classes was successful, but the adult school no longer funds teachers at the Fremont Parents' Nursery School like it did in 2008, officials said.
In Hayward, the adult school's cooperative preschool and entire parenting program, which served 4,000 parents in 2007-08, did not survive an increase in fees.
"It's going to be a huge problem for them," said Linda Trame, teaching coordinator for Hayward Unified's adult school. "What it will mean, in places like San Leandro and Castro Valley with programs subsidized in part by taxpayer dollars, if those go away, they will be in the same place we are, which the fees will be so high that (parents) won't be able to afford it."
But Joanne Durkee, legislative chairwoman of the California Council for Adult Education, which supports the bill, said the proposal is in line with recommendations made by the governor, the Legislative Analyst's Office and the state Department of Education to "focus and prioritize services" in adult education. "We have folks that need a high school diploma. We have folks that need citizenship."
Durkee, director of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District's adult education program, said the preschools can remain open through fees, like Mt. Diablo's did after losing adult education funding, and if they "get creative and look at where there are other sources of funding. We should be using those," such as Title I dollars from the school district, First 5 grants and Head Start programs, and through partnerships.
Still, many opportunities for preschool funding often are aimed at lower-income families. Parents at Broadmoor often don't meet the low-income requirements, but also can't afford pricier private programs, directors said.
That was the case for Broadmoor parent and board member Irma Gonzalez. After buying a home, she said Broadmoor's $120 fee per month was feasible, but the more than $400 more charged by local Montessori schools was out of her budget.
Mark Friedman, chief executive officer of First 5 Alameda County which awards competitive early education grants, said some communities will have a harder time than others if the bill passes, but said, "The survival of some of these vital facilities would be at risk."
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.