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Posted on Tue, May 21, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor schools considers closing tuition-based preschool programs

By Danielle Arndt

Editor's note: This story has been altered to clarify how the parent in the article learned about the possible closing of the preschool program.

Ann Arbor Public Schools' two tuition-based preschool programs are at risk of closing this fall, unless the district can secure enough full-time seats, school officials said.

Parents interested in enrolling their 4-year-olds must sign up this week, according to the district's website and emails sent around by administrators.


Allen Elementary School


Ann Arbor's Community Education and Recreation Department has operated a tuition-based preschool at Allen and Thurston elementary schools since about 2006, said district spokeswoman Liz Margolis. Additions at the schools to accommodate these programs were built using a portion of the district's $255 million comprehensive school improvement bond, which passed in 2004.

Two classrooms were added to each building, and each classroom has the capacity for 18 slots. These slots can be filled with a combination of full- and part-time students, said Jenna Bacolor, executive director of Rec and Ed. For example, a morning-only student and an afternoon-only student creates one full-time slot, she said.

Children from throughout the district, not just those living in the Allen and Thurston communities, can enroll in the tuition-based program. Ann Arbor officials had hoped the preschools would help attract and retain kindergarten students. This was when the district only offered a half-day kindergarten option and AAPS was losing some kindergarteners to other local full-day programs, Margolis said.

She said for a number of years, this idea worked and the cluster preschool programs did help retain kindergarteners, but the preschools still were under-enrolled and as of this year, AAPS now has an all-day kindergarten program.

Bacolor said of the tuition-based preschool, "We run an excellent program that parents love, but face competition from numerous other Ann Arbor preschools, many of which start at age 3, run through the summer months or offer a special focus."

Records indicate there has not been a year with full enrollment in both preschools since the program's inception in the 2006-07 academic year. Currently, both classrooms are running at two-thirds capacity. But for fall, enrollment has dropped significantly.

"We have requests for three full-time slots at Allen and two at Thurston, plus a handful of part-time requests at each school," Bacolor said.

The tuition-based preschool program does not receive money from the district's general fund, which is facing a projected deficit of $8.67 million for the upcoming school year. Rec and Ed has its own operating budget with two separate funds: the Rec and Ed fund and the child care fund. Bacolor said the preschool program is run through the child care fund, which, for 2012-13, is $1.7 million.

For the upcoming school year, projected revenues for the tuition-based preschool program are estimated at $193,590, while projected expenditures are estimated at $259,189. So the program is expected to operate on a $65,599 deficit next year, if it continues.

"No decision has been made," Margolis said. "We're still just looking at it and we're working with both schools to see how we can increase enrollment. ... But frankly, we can't afford to run deficit programs anymore."

Thurston Principal Natasha York sent an email out to the school's parents informing them of the possible closing and urging them to spread the word.

"... Our satellite preschool program is in jeopardy of closing. If we cannot secure 14 full-time seats by May 24, they will seriously consider closing the program," York wrote. "If you are interested in enrolling your child or you know of someone who is interested, will you please share the timeline so they can contact Thurston Preschool and we can get students enrolled. We have watched numerous children benefit from the Thurston Preschool Program and hope that we will be able to keep this program in our community. Thank you for your support."

The website for the preschool program lists the deadline as Tuesday, May 21.

Ann Arbor parent Truly Render said she found out about the tuition-based preschool program possibly no longer existing when she visited Allen to consider enrolling her daughter in the school's preschool class. She said she learned of the program from a colleague and was really impressed by the "stellar" curriculum.

"We're saddened to see something that appears to be a really quality program for a price we could really afford — because I felt it had a very quality curriculum that you would see at some of the more expensive private institutions — going away," Render said.

She said the original deadline to apply was mid-July, so she is worried the program won't exist now due to the sudden and unrealistic shift in deadlines.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:17 a.m.

We rush headlong into educational mediocrity. I am surprized the state hasn't proposed online preschool yet, who needs teachers?


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 8:22 p.m.

Pretty pricey for pre-school. Don't know who could afford it. $859 per month for all day.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

Don't forget that in this case "all day" means all during the school day, so from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm, and there is no pre-school included on days the school is closed. If you need before or after school care, it's another $8 - $20/ school day. Care for days off school is roughly $70 / day, and AAPS schedules at least one no-school or half-day per month all during the school year. When I had young twins, I found it was substantially cheaper to hire a college-student babysitter or even an ed school graduate who couldn't find a teaching job than to enroll 2 students in AAPS' tuition pre-school or parent-paid full day kindergarten.

Silent Observer

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 5:34 p.m.

As Early Childhood Education has become the focal point for discussion on a national and state level, I cannot help but find it ironic that they want to close these two programs. Although they are tuition based programs, there does not appear to be much of an effort to utilize or access the money that is being released to our state to allow those who would like to attend these preschools the opportunity to enroll. This high quality program provides our children with the necessary foundation in order for them to be ready for the rigorous curriculum that will be given to them as they enter into kindergarten. By using the Everyday Math program, Handwriting Without Tears and providing them with an inventive system to learn their letters and letter sounds they far exceed the expectations that many Kindergarten Teachers have as children enter their classrooms in September. I understand the importance of balancing a budget BUT when the attempts to save these programs are based on poorly planned advertisement. How are families supposed to know this program is here and go to enroll? This seems like a hasty way for a new Director to balance her budget! I know first hand how one of these programs work. The two teachers located at the Allen Preschool are highly educated and dedicated to working with their students to guide them through their exploration of learning. Their blend of academics and a play based curriculum allow for each child to fully develop at their own rate. The diversity of the students in the class was an added benefit to my child's learning experience. They not only cultivated friendships but learned how to problem solve through the typical social conflicts that preschoolers have. As an Early Childhood Educator myself, I cannot stress enough the importance of creating an inclusive setting where tuition, grant funded programs like GSRP and Early Childhood Special Education work together. This is where the focus should be to improve this program!


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

Thoughtful - It's pretty difficult to tell anything at all about the Boardwalk Preschool building / program/ system finances, because they get money from several sources to fund services to several distinct populations of students. There's Federal money for Head Start, state and Federal money for the Great Start School Readiness Program, federal, and state and ISD Special Education millage money for the Early Intervention and Special Education students. Depending on the income levels of the families with students enrolled in any given school year, there may also be Title I and Title II funding. And there are grants, co-operative research projects that provide some teaching materials, grad students who offer interventions, etc. The AAPS General Fund money transferred into the Preschool programs can be tracked. All those sources of income associated with pre-school students from the different levels of government are (deliberately?) not included in the budget figures AAPS shares with the public.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

Amoc, I reread your comment above. Is it the preschool portion on Boardwalk that is at a deficit?


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

AMOC, So is it functioning in the red because of non-paying clientele? Dont they get state $ for special Ed? It's full, but running at a deficit? I am truly curious, as I do not know these answers. Also, can any overflow kids go to WISD, or are there no longer any classrooms running in that building? Is it only Honey Creek?


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

Thoughtful - The pre-school building on Boardwalk is not under-utilized at this time. It's so full of special needs children, they are forcing some special needs kids who are (due to state-level regulation changes) a month or two too young for Kindergarten to move out, because there are younger kids who must be enrolled.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 11:22 p.m.

Does the entire school have to be heated in order to keep these programs open over school breaks? If so, they were a bad idea for placement to begin with. Can they Consolidate this program with the underutilized AA preschool on Boardwalk?


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 4:33 p.m.

So, what does it cost to enroll a child in this program? That would be good to know.

Silent Observer

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 6:08 p.m.

You can actually click on the link in the article that says two tuition- based preschool programs and it will take you to that information.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

There is yet another pre-school program that AAPS spent money on building facilities for, above and beyond this one. That program was the responsibility of WISD and they took the hit if it did not break-even. This other program is mandated, and so someone has to do it. But like this one it is losing money. Unlike this one, the cost comes out of the general fund. It is high time that AAPS either figured out how to make THAT pre-school program break even or hand it back to WISD, where the program belongs. AAPS decided to spend millions of dollars out of the bond fund for Skyline to build pre-school facilities with no plan to make them even break even. They promised they would break even, but they admitted before the bond was even voted on that they never would. When AAPS was rolling in money, there was no issue in taking on extra responsibilities. Now that they are not, they need to focus on their mission - K-12 student learning. The pre-schools, all of them are a luxury that the district can no longer afford. Give the mandated one back to WISD, let them use the beautiful facilities that AAPS built if they like, the tuition based one - lease the facilities to a local provider and let them setup a full time program in the wonderful facilities that your tax dollars paid for.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 8:32 p.m.

I think the other program DonBee refers to is the purpose built Ann Arbor Preschool and Family Center on Boardwalk. See That building houses Head Start classroom, Great Start Classrooms, and Early-On Special Education classrooms. All of these programs are mandated for children who are at risk, or who have already been diagnosed with disabilities, but the mandate is at the Intermediate School District level. All of these programs are supported by state and Federal grants to some degree, but the way the Preschool operates has cost an additional $30 -50k each year from the AAPS general fund. Individual school systems may choose to provide these programs, but they get no more and no less money from the grantors than an ISD would. AAPS used a great deal of bond money to build space for pre-schools, both free and tuition-based, but they didn't think through the marketing of their programs and have not met their goal to break even on pre-school services.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 5:59 p.m.

DonBee - what is the other program that you are referring to? I don't believe that the facilities at Allen and Thurston could be turned over to an outside provider because they're located within the schools and would have to follow the same schedule and rules. Although maybe First Steps could use them?


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

What about the Young 5 program at Abbott? I think that is free. Does the district get money from the state to keep that open?


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

I believe there is some sort of special allowance from the state to fund Young 5 programs while the school entry age is being adjusted upward. Last year, an entering kindergartner had to turn 5 by 1 December. This year the deadline moved down to "5 by 1 November" and there's a glide path to requiring that students turn 5 by 1 September of the year of entry. I have mixed opinions about this. On one hand, there is too much academic content in the current K curriculum for many/most kids at age 5. That has led to many, many families holding their kids out of kindergarten until the year in which they will turn 6, and the new age requirement will increase their numbers. This is a better match for when children, especially boys, are likely to have sufficient brain development to absorb the kind of symbolic knowledge needed for reading, writing and arithmetic. On the other, a rigid age requirement, rather than a functional / knowledge requirement for entry into K (or 1st grade, or 2nd grade . . . ) is likely to serve many children and families poorly. Because too many school districts are reluctant to create and enforce relevant standards, the kids are rigidly grouped by age, as if that were the most important aspect of their preparation for or progress within school.

Wake Up A2

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

They loose more money every year offering summer school. 65k is pennies, oh wait thats Deb's line.

Chester Drawers

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

I would LOVE to see the 'balance sheet' for secondary summer school! A large percentage of students get income based fee waivers. In addition, they accept out of district students who pay only a small premium over what AAPS students pay.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 2:11 p.m.

13 cents, to be exact.

Peter Eckstein

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

"For the upcoming school year, projected revenues for the tuition-based preschool program are estimated at $193,590, while projected expenditures are estimated at $259,189. So the program is expected to operate on a $65,599 deficit next year, if it continues." Obviously more effective marketing is needed for these programs, but a $65K deficit is hardly shocking. Even in good times--by this definition--our schools, like our parks, etc., all run multimillion dollar "deficits." That's what we pay taxes for, and we ought to have a system in which early childhood programs, including parenting education, get comparable taxpayer support.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

I think people commenting do not understand. The AAPS does not pay for this program - preschool is not a part of the public school services. Services begin at Kindergarten. That said, it's the families who want the preschool service who pay - just like any other tuition based preschool program in our area. The problem is low enrollment. With not enough tuition, the place can't run. The other problem, as mentioned in the article, is that the program follows the school calendar - no summer programming and SO MANY days off through out the school year (winter break = 2 weeks; mid winter break = 1 week; spring break = 1 week; and many other days off here and there.) Our community is no longer filled with "stay at home" moms who are only putting their children in preschool to get used to the school experience. Most families need both parents to work (where there are two parents at home) and they cannot afford to find alternate care during those months of no service. With all of the press stressing the importance of quality preschool, it will be fine day when the public schools pick it up as they did kindergarten. Until then, there are many preschools available and with the GSRP funding (Great Start Readiness Program), it can be affordable to low-income families as well (BTW, Perry Nursery School of Ann Arbor - a non-profit - is open to serve a full work day, full week, year-round for low income families who need full time care.) I am sure there is a program out there to fit all needs, even if these public school ones cannot stay open.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

There's a budget crisis in the AAPS. If you're just getting involved in the district with a preschooler, you'll have to get used to "sudden and unrealistic" . Running an extremely underutilized program at a huge deficit is unrealistic. Plenty of great preschool programs out there. And now all day kindergarden is free. Wait until your kid gets into elementary with 30 kids in class. Prepare yourself now, so it's not sudden.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

What I do not understand is when I went to school they were 30 to 38 students per class with 1 teacher. Now we get 1 teacher and 1 assistant to 18 children? Wonder why we have a budget issues.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

If the target is less than 22 in a class, the AAPS missed the target EVERY year with my kids, starting in kindergarden.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

Unless you're under 20, or were eligible for HeadStart, it's unlikely that you went to pre-school, mmill10227. And the 1 teacher plus an assistant for 18 kids is why AAPS's preschool is not and will not be cost-competitive with the private pre-schools in the area. Many of those private offerings have equally excellent curricula and similar adult-child ratios, but they pay their teachers significantly less than AAPS does, and the "assistants" make $8-9 / hour. In K and above, there's an AAPS target of <22 students in each classroom, and not every teacher will have an aide or student teacher.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

football is more important!


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

I love this program and it is definitely under utilized. It is truly high quality education for our next generation. I sure hope they can find enough children to enroll as it would be a shame to lose such a well implemented, evidence-based preschool program.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

The question is, can the parents who are able to use a part-year pre-school instead of a full-time, year-round program which can serve as day care for families where the parents all work afford the cost that comes with AAPS' overhead and pay scales. In general, the only families who can use a pre-school that operates on a school-day, school year schedule are those with a stay-at-home parent or those where at least one parent is a teacher. Are there enough families in Ann Arbor with only one wage earner who can afford this top-of-the-line program which costs ~$5k per school year?

Wake Up A2

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 10:47 a.m.

Typical for AAPS.... Have a great leader and great program that helps students, close it. Then keep a awful leader and let a great program slide... Pioneer! Typical... when will they listen to the people who are paying their salaries.

Wake Up A2

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 6:59 p.m.

Don, Boom and bust. No advertising for it, no competitive pricing. A good program that was left to die but others that died years ago are still funded. That's why the comparison to Pioneer. Good school with poor management heading for death because of this "let it ride mentality". Install a principal, who does nothing and thinks it wont die.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 3:07 p.m.

Wake Up A2 - If you look at the schedule for the pre-schools, you will see why the enrollment is so low. They are closed many days and not open for the summer. No parent who works, can use the program, without a backup program for the days it is not available. If they ran Monday thru Friday 52 weeks a year, like many other programs did, they would probably be full & even over subscribed, but they don't so many parents choose a program better fitted to being able to work to pay for the pre-school. The program content is great, the schedule horrible. AAPS has known about the problem since BEFORE they spent the money to build the facilities and did nothing at all about it. We wasted a couple million dollars of bond funds with this, and people knew it would not work, and no one was willing to fix it.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

Why would anyone keep a program open for 3 kids at Allen, and only 2 at Thurston? That's like a private tutor, and defeats the socialization aspect of preschool as well. Might as well have a day long play date. The part time kids can go anywhere.

say it plain

Tue, May 21, 2013 : 10:24 a.m.

Yep, "stellar curriculum" or not (and preschool should be play-based in any case, I think), AAPS surely cannot afford to run deficit programs that don't even serve more than a handful of clients. Make AAPS kindergartens part of elementary schools that people want to make part of their families' lives, and your 'enrollment' problem will be a long way towards solved. Stop with the endless marketing and attracting business ideas, BOE and central administration! Get your core mission house in order--helping students and families feel that AAPS is interested in helping all students get the education they deserve, instead of creating barriers to that in so very many ways. Demand excellence in curriculum where it counts (hint: at the lower school levels it's all much more about keeping kids engaged in school and pursuing/developing their interests so as to help them get 'the basics' in the most attitude-positive way), stop being overtly concerned with teaching to tests so that your numbers don't look terrible when it's *people* behind all those numbers.