Parents rally to save preschool Using social networking to raise funds and keep the school open
Photo by Josh Rosenau
Kids clean up at the township preschool last year when the township was considering closing the program. This year, it looks like that may happen. Parents are trying to raise money with donations to save the program.
BY PATRICIA KELLER
WEST MILFORD — When Kelly and Michael Podany moved to West Milford less than a year ago, they did their research in looking for a preschool for their young daughter. When they learned about the Hillcrest Community Preschool, a school that had been around for over 25 years, the positive feedback about the beloved teachers helped them to choose this as the place they wanted for their daughter.However, just one year later, the Podanys are leading the fight to keep their beloved preschool open so their daughter, their younger son and other children in the township can be in this same Hillcrest classroom with "Miss Flo and Miss Bonnie."The township intends to end the preschool program at the end of this school year because of continued financial losses and anemic registration numbers.The preschool “On the first day of school, we were all excited and nervous," said Kelly Podany. "When we walked into the school, my daughter's eyes lit up. The classroom was so bright and inviting. The teachers were friendly and soft spoken. There was a playroom in the back that, when I saw it, I knew my daughter would love it. There was a small playground right outside the classroom door and a big gym right down the hall. Upon seeing all of this I knew we made the right choice.”That is what thousands of parents over the past 30 years have determined with the township's preschool. At one time, there was a waiting list to get into the program. But that hasn't been the case over the past few years. Enrollment has dropped as private preschools have grown in numbers, providing full day and after school hours geared for working parents. The Hillcrest program is a traditional preschool, with limited hours geared toward age-appropriate learning and activities.This year When the time came to register for the new school year, the Podany family had no doubts about re-registering their daughter at Hillcrest, and planned to register their son as well, since he will also be old enough to attend this coming school year. Podany said her little guy was excited and couldn’t wait to be able to go to his big sister’s school, since he already loved going there and seeing the teachers and the classroom when they went to pick up his sister.But the Podany family was in for a big disappointment. They soon received the news that the township would be closing the preschool this year due to decreased enrollment and lack of available funding. Last year, the council discussed shutting down the program but parents convinced them to reconsider, at least for one year.According to interim township Administrator Robert Casey, only 28 children signed up for this current spring semester with only eight preregistered for the fall session. In 2013, the preschool program showed a loss of $34,341, and that doesn't include facility costs or overhead."The real issue has been has been declining enrollment," said Casey in an email to The Messenger. A few years ago, 80 children were enrolled. That declined to 69 in 2013 with only 28 for the winter/spring 2014 and eight registered for the fall session.The campaign to save the preschoolThe Podanys, along with other parents, have started a social network campaign to raise funds to try to save the preschool. The families set up a donation site earlier this month through “GoFundMe” to try to raise the money to save the preschool. The link to the site is http://www.gofundme.com/8yit4g.“It is a comprehensive effort using Facebook, GoFundMe, and Twitter to maximize our voices and meet the necessary goal of $40,000,” said Michael Podany.But the fundraising isn't what they had hoped for. Although the fundraising site has 67 "shares" as of this week, only the Podanys have made a donation so far.They are still hopeful. The council is holding a budget session on Friday, March 30, at 6:30 p.m. The budget public hearing is on Wednesday, June 4, where the council may adopt the 2014 spending plan.If nothing changes, though, the parents will have to find other another option for their kids.“I don't have the heart to tell my little girl that she can no longer go to her preschool anymore," said Podany. "That she will no longer be seeing her teachers whom she loves so much. No more art projects or playing in the gym. No more playing with her friends in the playroom or on the playground. It saddens me that I will soon have to break the news to her.”For more information about the fundraising efforts, Michael Podany can be reached on twitter: @HillCrestParent, the hashtag is: #savehillcrestpreschool.