North Routt Preschool opened Monday after county bailout
September 26, 2011
Clark — With the help of a $25,000 bailout it received from the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Friday, the North Routt Preschool opened its doors Monday, one week after it closed abruptly because of financial troubles.
On Friday, commissioners unanimously approved a $25,000 zero-interest loan that must be paid back by Dec. 31, 2012, for the preschool in Clark. However, the commissioners also acknowledged the loan could end up being a gift.
Parents learned last week the school could no longer afford to pay its teachers, causing many of them to scramble to find other child care options.
"I was really panicking last week, but today I'm thrilled the school is back open again," parent Katie Bessey said as she watched a group of 3- and 4-year-old girls do homework and draw at the preschool Monday afternoon.
Last week was supposed to be Bessey's 18-month-old daughter's first week of preschool, but after the school closed, Bessey joined three other new members on a five-member board of directors that now is trying to get the preschool on stable financial footing.
Bessey spent Monday afternoon taking calls from folks as far away as Steamboat who said they were willing to volunteer at the school after they learned of its closing last week.
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"I talked to a person today who said they would start selling Christmas ornaments to help us get more funding," she said.
Bessey said the school is interviewing for an accountant who will pore over its past expenses and figure out how much debt it has accrued, including payroll taxes. They also are in the early stages of discussing how to bring on an interim director and create a business and marketing plan for the small school.
She told commissioners last week the new board doesn't know how the school's finances got to the point of closure.
Kerri Ann Crocker, the preschool board's new secretary and treasurer, said Friday that errors from the past administration and a more than $294,000 bank loan that helped fund construction of the more than $624,000 school led to the financial hardship.
And interim Board President Brandon LaChance, who teaches seventh and eighth grade students at the neighboring North Routt Community Charter School, said he didn't know exactly what led to the resignation of the school's previous director, Hillary Ackerman. LaChance and Bessey declined to provide the names of board members who were serving before the preschool's closure.
"The names should come from (Ackerman)," LaChance said.
Ackerman, who resigned as director of the preschool before it closed last week, could not be reached for comment Monday. She said last week she could not discuss why she resigned or what led to the school's closure, and referred all questions about the school to Bessey. Minutes of the preschool's previous board meetings were not available on the school's website.
The school served 17 families before it closed last week, and on Monday seven students were at the preschool on what administrators called its slowest day of the week.
Bessey said the school was working to reach out to North Routt parents who enrolled their children in other preschools in Steamboat in the absence of other child care options in Clark.
"Some parents had to sign up elsewhere, and we're hoping they come back," she said.
Stephanie Martin, program supervisor for First Impressions of Routt County's Early Childhood Council, said her organization would continue to support the preschool in Clark as it works through its finances. She said its closure last week put parents in a difficult position.
"For some parents who are living and working in North Routt, they don't have other child care options unless they have a friend or neighbor that can help," she said. "It's great to hear the school is back open today."
Martin said while First Impressions previously checked in with the preschool and reported back to the county commissioners on a quarterly basis, it now will check in more frequently and report back to the elected officials once a month.
"It was very validating to see Routt County put funds forward for this school," she said.
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com