With low enromment ahead of Friday's registration deadline, Canton’s town-run preschool, The Gridley School, is facing the possibility of shutting down.
At the June 19 selectmen's meeting, Canton Recreation Director Janet Maguire said 12 children were enrolled. The numbers hasn't increased since then, Maguire said.
“We’re looking to meet a minimum number for enrollment,” Maguire said earlier this week.
That minimum is 17 students for each of two sessions – the morning and the afternoon, according to Maguire.
Following the meeting, the deposit for the pre-school increased to $400 from $40 because selectmen thought this would show more commitment from parents who want to be involved.
The monthly tuition for the coming year is $400 for morning sessions and $500 for afternoon sessions, according to the Canton Recreation Department website. That marks a sharp increase from the previous tuition of $230, according to former Gridley teacher Nicole Brooks.
The fee is refundable if the school closes due to lack of enrollment, according to the department website.
Of the 12 parents who had paid the $40 deposit so far, Maguire declined to say whether those parents had paid the $400 amount.
The program was placed in jeopardy this spring when all four of the pre-school teachers resigned. Maguire characterized the departures as coincidental.
Brooks, who had been a Gridley teacher for 2 1/2 years, said she was leaving because the town did not offer benefits and she found a job that did. Brooks will work at St. John the Evangelist School in Canton in the fall.
She said interest in the Gridley School program remains high, despite the scarcity of families who have paid the deposit.
“A lot of the families that heard about the Gridley School closing are hesitant to pay the registration fee and lose their registration fee,” Brooks said. “A lot of people signed up for the program for September 2013, but they didn’t pay their fee.”
Brooks agreed with Maguire’s assessment that the teachers leaving was coincidental, stating that each had a different reason.
Selectmen at the meeting last week – particularly John Connolly – expressed disappointment with the teachers for failing to give notice in a timely manner.
“Not to have the courtesy to tell people, that’s not right,” Connolly said.
Brooks said all the teachers had given their notice in May, which was enough time for the town to find replacements.
At least two teachers will have to be hired, according to Maguire. Brooks said that candidates for the positions had made themselves known to the Gridley teachers and that they would gladly share the names.
Maguire told selectmen last week that she did not think the preschool should continue as a Recreation Department program, and should be transferred to the School Department.
“The Recreation Department is in the business of recreation, and the Gridley School does not fall into that category,” Maguire said this week.
The Gridley School has been in place for more than 20 years, according to Maguire. She commended the teachers and said the program was highly regarded in town.
Parents who attended the selectmen meeting agreed.
Jennifer Sykes said she had hoped her daughter, who had just finished her first year at Gridley, would be attending the school for two more years.
“The experience she has had there has been unbelievable,” Sykes said. “As a mom, I could not be more proud of her, and that school has offered that to her.”
The Playground and Recreation Commission voted to keep the program going, but only if the town would step in to support any deficit the program creates. That amount could be as much as $20,000, according to Maguire.
Selectmen voted to wait until the registration deadline of Friday, June 28 to see whether enrollment numbers improved, then make a decision at their next meeting, on July 9.
Selectman Avril Elkort said that if the Gridley School is closed, Canton Community Kindergarten has committed to accepting the Gridley students.
For more information on the Gridley School, visit www.cantonrec.com.