2017-05-19 / Front Page

MUSD board votes not to raise tuition at low-cost preschool next year

Officials may hike cost in 2018-19
By Caitlin Trude

Parents in attendance at a Moorpark Unified board of trustees meeting last week breathed a sigh of relief after the board voted down a proposed tuition increase at a low-cost preschool.

The May 9 vote was 4-1 against, with trustee Ute Van Dam casting the one vote in favor.

It means the district will not raise monthly tuition from $175 to $250 at the preschool at Mountain Meadows 21st Century Learning Academy.

Though the vote puts a stay on the tuition costs for the 2017- 18 school year, the board didn’t close the door on the possibility of raising rates in the future.

The Mountain Meadows site requires parents to volunteer in the class a minimum of two days a month; that’s how the district is able to reduce its costs.

In addition to the $75 tuition increase, preschool staff proposed that parents be required to volunteer in the classroom three times each month rather than just the two days.

That, too, was voted down by the board.

MUSD preschool program coordinator Kelli Burns told the board that the tuition increase was necessary in order for the self-funded preschool to continue, as no general fund money is set aside for the program.

The district’s three other preschools— at Flory Academy of Sciences and Technology, Campus

Canyon College Preparatory Academy and Walnut Canyon School—are more expensive than Mountain Meadows preschool and are funded through MUSD as well as tuition.

Parents who send their children to those three preschools pay $439 a month for five days a week and $189 for two days a week. Cost for the five-day option is $264 more a month than what parents at Mountain Meadows currently pay.

Had the board approved the tuition increase at Mountain Meadows, the money would have been used for staff development, salaries, classroom supplies and equipment.

Preschoolers at Mountain Meadows attend class five days each week for one three-hour session in the morning or in the afternoon. This year, about 16 students are enrolled in each session, which are run by one preschool teacher and at least one parent volunteer, Burns said.

Residents voiced their frustration regarding the possible hike at last week’s meeting.

Lisa Hotz said she’d been planning to enroll her 3-year-old daughter in the Mountain Meadows program in the fall but was concerned about the preschool’s cost.

“(A tuition) increase may be warranted, but 42 percent is, in my opinion, simply too much,” she said.

“Many parents in this program are making ends meet on one income, meaning this proposed fee increase would put the program out of reach,” Hotz told the board.”

Brittney Russell, whose 4-year-old son is enrolled in program, was afraid she and her husband wouldn’t be able to afford continuing to send him to Mountain Meadows.

“I love this program, I truly do, but . . . we are just trying to get by with what (the tuition rate) is right now,” she said.

“My husband and I actually made the decision to move to Moorpark because of this program,” said Brittany Niedzwiecki, another Moorpark mom. “This program is incredible. We have really seen our daughter flourish. . . . We would be heartbroken if we could not afford to bring her back for a second year.”

Trustee Robert Perez asked Burns if the Mountain Meadows preschool program would still run smoothly over the next year or two without a tuition increase.

Burns told him the preschool will finish the school year in the black but she’d hoped some of the money from the rate increase could be used to help pay district personnel to train parent volunteers.

Deciding how to vote on the proposal was not easy for board members to do.

“I’m torn because I know that the increase is going to directly benefit the students because they need the supplies and what have you, but I do feel for the families who are lower income, and this is going to be substantial,” Van Dam said.

She suggested that the board approve a more modest tuition rate of $210 per month, but the four other trustees voted against that idea.

“I understand splitting the difference (but) it’s still an increase,” Trustee Scott Dettorre said. “My thought is, keep (the tuition the same) until next year, that way everyone knows (in advance), with the understanding that the school services will have to stay the same.”

Parents relieved by the board’s decision said they were happy to pitch in where they could.

“Speaking for myself, I’m happy to provide extra (supplies) to the class if necessary,” Hotz told the Moorpark Acorn after the meeting.

“We’re currently asked to provide things here and there for the class and nobody has a problem with doing that,” Niedzwiecki said.

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