For years, it has been the place where families could find affordable and supportive child care, as well as classes in parenting.
Its long legacy has been a reflection of the rising cost of living in the Ross Valley, where both parents almost always have to be jobholders to afford living here or local workers need to have child care nearby.
The dilemma facing them and the Ross Valley School Board is that the school district says it cannot afford needed fire safety and building code upgrades for Fairfax’s old Deer Park School that has played host to the child care center for nearly 50 years.
The district’s lawyer says that if the district cannot afford the liability it should not consider extending the center’s lease and instead give it a 60-day notice to vacate the property.
“We are faced with a tough decision about how to both ensure the safety and welfare of young children while also support the child care needs of low-income families in our community,” said district Superintendent Marci Trahan, framing the community quandary and stressing the district staff and school board share “the community’s love and concern” for the center.
“We want (the center) to flourish and thrive,” she stressed. That’s been evident in the district’s help in keeping the center’s rent affordable over so many years.
But the district’s pickle could leave this center, which plays such a vital role in the lives of so many families, with no place to go. The center operates on a month-to-month lease and had asked the district for a four-year lease it needed to apply for a state grant for the needed upgrades.
This is not the first time the district has considered ending its role as the center’s landlord. It is, however, the latest – and one with a much tighter time frame.
Given that the district doesn’t have the enrollment nor intent to reopen the tiny campus as a public school, using it for another public use – a child care center – seems an appropriate, if not symbiotic, use for a community asset.
What’s the district going to do with the property if the center is forced to vacate?It is important that the Ross Valley Fire District is expressing a willingness to work with the district to keep the center open.
It may be an appropriate target for help from the Marin Community Foundation. It certainly meets the foundation’s goals of addressing local equity issues and helping low-income households.
The town and county should also help – politically and financially – upholding their promises to address equity gaps confronting our county.
Other public stakeholders should also extend their help, both financially and in providing needed service and advice.
For nearly a half-century, mostly under the strong leadership of heartfelt activists Ethel and Stan Seiderman, the center has provided child care to generations of youngsters whose parents live in the Ross Valley or work there, or both. It has been an enduring example reflecting a community that cares about all families and local jobholders.
That’s why more than 200 people showed up for the Ross Valley School Board meeting. That is also why more than 650 people have signed a petition opposing the forced closure of the center.
It is time to turn that show of support into civic wherewithal to come up with solutions for this challenge.