By Ed Fincher
When Lynne Bridges, the executive director of the Seeds of Learning Early Care and Education Center, presented a request for funding at the latest meeting of the Archuleta School Board, she wound up getting more than expected.
“What you see on last year’s budget,” Bridges explained as she gave a handout to the school board, “is that you gave us $35,000, the county gave us $10,000, and the town gave us $5,000. I’m not sure about the 10 and the five this year.”
Bridges indicated the people with whom she sat in the back row of the audience, and said, “I have to quote one of my little students. Just now he leaned over and asked his grandma if this was church.” This evoked a chuckle from the audience and the school board. “I’m going to say yes it is because I have been doing a lot of praying.”
As was previously reported in The SUN, the county isn’t sure it will be able to fund any service organizations this year. In an e-mail sent to Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation chairperson Muriel Eason, Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte stated, “As the designated budget officer for the county, I am required to present a balanced proposed budget on or before Oct. 15. Due to the significant reductions in revenues we are expecting, I am not including in the initial proposed budget funding for organizations such as CDC, Seeds of Learning, AAA, CFR, etc.”
“As you’ll see in our budget, we do tons and tons of fund-raising trying to sustain Seeds,” Bridges continued. “What some of you may not know is the actual cost per child at Seeds is $52 to $54 per day, and yet we only charge $28.50 per day. That’s almost half price, but it’s still a lot of money for parents. The analogy I use is even at half price, a Mercedes would be too much.”
Bridges then indicated Pagosa Springs Elementary School principal Kate Lister, also sitting near the back of the room, and said, “Kate can attest to the collaboration we have with the school readiness program. We have one toddler room and three pre-school classrooms. That’s what we focus on — getting the most from our kiddos. Right now eighty-two percent have risk factors. That takes a lot of time. Hopefully we are helping you guys out a little bit by handing them to you school-ready.”
“We are thrilled with the quality of students that come to us from Seeds,” Lister affirmed. “We couldn’t be happier, but the best thing that could happen to us is if they added on a couple of rooms and took on some more of the kids.”
“I’ve had the pleasure of fund-raising for Seeds,” board member Joanne Irons added. “The biggest single take-away I had was that this is an educational center; it’s not just a daycare. Their standards are extremely high. Kate shared the other morning how many kids come into kindergarten that don’t have any preschool at all.”
“We have 118 kindergartners this year and less than half have had pre-school experience,” Lister admitted. “When we talk about them already being more than a year and a half behind, that is the truth.”
“From my personal standpoint, regardless of how much money we can come up with,” Irons continued, “if we truly do what is best for kids and believe in education, we know it starts right away. Seeds of Learning is a clearinghouse for getting kids ready for what will soon be an all-day kindergarten. I just think it is a good partnership.”
“When you look at that support piece,” Superintendent Mark DeVoti interjected, “where the professional development that Kate has brought in with her staff to the Seeds of Learning over the past years, the activities they go through with Seeds are very purposeful and focus on academic standards.”
Lister explained later, “We have two certified preschools in our area that collaborate under the Colorado Preschool Program. The Lutheran preschool is certified but is ‘faith-based’ so they do not qualify for the Colorado Preschool Funds.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, “In 1988, the Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP) to serve the young children in Colorado who were most vulnerable to starting grade school unprepared. The legislature recognized that providing quality early childhood education would ultimately curb dropout rates, help children achieve their full potential, reduce dependence on public assistance, and decrease susceptibility to criminal activities.”
“The preschool council meets most months,” Lister continued, “to review certification guidelines, discuss academic standards, review parent surveys and the kindergarten reading data. Based on the data or needs reflected in the surveys, my staff and I have presented mini-trainings hosted at our elementary school.
“Other times the Seeds and Head Start staffs have observed the kindergarten classrooms to see the ‘end in mind’ for their students. Several times a year the council members observe the preschool classrooms to give feedback. These trainings have helped bridge the communication and expectations from preschool to Kindergarten.”
The school board’s discussion of Bridges’ request went on for several more minutes and revolved around two concerns. First, other programs, which are equally important, shouldn’t get short-changed. Second, equal funding may not be available next year to give to Seeds, depending on what happens in Washington, so there should be no future expectations of this much funding.
However, upon reassurances to the school board from DeVoti and ASD business manager Janell Wood about the availability of Secure Rural School funds from the county, at least for this year, the motion was finally made to support Seeds.
“The question isn’t if, it’s how much,” board member Greg Schick said, and made the motion to give Seeds of Learning, not the $35,000 the school board gave them last year, but the full $50,000 that Bridges needs to operate, including the $15,000 the town and county have said they might not be able to provide this year.
When a motion carried by a unanimous vote the audience erupted in applause.
“What we have done with the two prior donations of Secure Rural Schools funds to Seeds,” Wood explained later, “is Archuleta County receives the funds based on the number of students in the three school districts within Archuleta County. I believe that Ignacio and Bayfield school districts also receive some of these funds.
“Once the county receives the funds, usually in February or March, then they pass our portion through on our April tax statement. As soon as I receive this confirmation, I pay Seeds in the following check run in a lump sum.”