Sunnyside revamps early learning center to cut costs

2014-02-13T00:00:00Z Sunnyside revamps early learning center to cut costsBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Ocotillo Early Learning Center will eliminate its infant and toddler programs and reduce preschool classes for low-income students next school year.

Sunnyside Unified School District officials also will add eight teachers to accommodate kindergartners and first-graders who will move to Ocotillo.

The district’s Governing Board unanimously approved the changes at Tuesday’s board meeting, the latest in a series of budget cuts that began after voters rejected an override in November.

Sunnyside is looking to save $6 million.

Officials also said the district will keep its return-to-work program for retirees, saying it’ll cost less to keep the retired workers than to hire new ones.

Sunnyside officials proposed the restructuring of Ocotillo, release of return-to-work employees and numerous other cuts in November, weeks after the failed budget override.

Ocotillo will replace its fee-based infant and toddler programs with an expanded version of its preschool program that currently charges a fee.

Officials maintained their optimistic tone regarding the cuts, saying the new structure at Ocotillo will serve children more efficiently while saving money.

“By eliminating these two programs and replacing them with the 3- to 5-year-old fee-based program, it’s more cost-effective,” Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo said. “These ages will fit better into the overall program.”

The changes at Ocotillo will affect 30 children enrolled in the infant and toddler programs, as well as about 90 low-income students who attend the preschool program for free.

Ocotillo will keep 75 low-income students in the preschool program, mixing regular needs students with those who have special needs.

The school also will eliminate seven teaching positions and seven instructional aides.

The cuts to the preschool program are expected to save the district about $530,964.

The expansion of the fee-based preschool program, which serves children from higher-income families, should create a surplus of about $70,000, officials said.

The elimination of the toddler and infant programs won’t save the district any money because the programs were fee based, but officials wanted to eliminate the programs because both were losing money.

Ocotillo personnel used money from the fee-based portion of its preschool program to cover losses from the infant and toddler classes, said Ocotillo Administrative Coordinator Paul Ohm.

The school used about $3,000 per month to supplement those programs, Ohm said.

It costs $137.50 per week for a parent to enroll a child in Ocotillo’s preschool, which serves about 100 students.

To prepare for the addition of kindergarten and first grade, the district will transfer eight kindergarten and first-grade teachers from Los Ranchitos Elementary School to Ocotillo.

Los Ranchitos, along with Chaparral Middle School, is slated for closure.

Ocotillo will likely add 24 special-needs students and at least two teachers from Santa Clara Elementary School, which needs to create space as district officials look to add sixth-graders at the school, Ohm said.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

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