Noe Valley Voice June 1999

Parents Rattled by Preschool Closings

By Dodie Hamblen

Despite a crying need, the number of childcare options for Noe Valley families continues to dwindle. Since our March story on three popular preschools possibly facing eviction, the Voice has learned of two family daycare facilities that will be calling it quits by the end of the summer.

Timothy Mouse House owner and director Valerie Valdez says that unless she finds a buyer, her family daycare will close its doors in August after 11 years in the neighborhood. The preschool, with its large colorful mouse mural, is a familiar landmark on the corner of Diamond and 23rd streets.

Valdez, who also owns the building, is moving to Santa Cruz. She hopes to find someone to buy her business, including the waiting lists, equipment, books, and other program materials. "I'm a landlord who actually wants daycare in their space," says Valdez, alluding to the trouble many childcare providers have had in finding adequate rentals and supportive landlords in San Francisco.

Timothy Mouse House currently provides childcare to 24 Noe Valley families on a full- or half-day basis. Valdez says that most of the children will be moving on to kindergarten in the fall. But because she cannot guarantee that the school will exist in September, many prospective families have decided to send their children elsewhere.

Little Bear School, Wind in the Willows, and Little People's Workshop -- the three daycare centers reported to be in danger of losing their leases (see sidebar for an update) -- have all considered relocating to Timothy Mouse House, but the space was either too large or too small for their needs. (It has 1,400 square feet of indoor space, plus an outdoor play area of 400 to 500 sq. ft.)

Still, Valdez is hopeful for the future of the school, named for a character in the film Dumbo. "The school must go on. It's my child -- it's been fabulous for me," she says wistfully. "I'm looking for someone young and energetic who wants to get started in this business." Interested parties should contact Valdez at 282-0215.

Meanwhile, Debi Anaya, owner and director of Cozy Corner Preschool on Dolores Terrace (just off Dolores Street), has also decided to close after eight years in the family daycare business. "I'm closing because I have an opportunity to move on," she says. This fall, Anaya will take a position as director of Calvary Presbyterian Church Nursery School in the Fillmore.

Cozy Corner now serves 22 families whose kids attend on a half- or three-quarter-time basis. Like Timothy Mouse House, it is one of the few family daycare centers with a preschool curriculum that enrolls 2-year-olds.

Asked what she thinks her families will do next year, Anaya says, "It's pretty bleak for families in Noe Valley. There are so few places for me to send anyone anymore. So many have waiting lists. I feel like I am up against the wall."

Leslie Banta, who operates the Eureka Learning Center -- which has two sites, one on Eureka and another on Diamond Street -- says she is already feeling the fallout from the preschool crunch. "It is very disturbing. We are certainly getting more calls, and people are scurrying around. But this program is already saturated. It makes you feel like, Oh my God, what's going to happen?"

Banta says there is an acute demand for quality childcare in Noe Valley. "People like this type of daycare," says Banta, whose program operates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.

A teacher in Early Childhood Education at San Francisco State, Banta has run Eureka Learning Center for 16 years. "This is a small independent business, but it is really becoming impossible for people to do this sort of thing in this neighborhood."

She says one reason that launching a small center or running a family daycare out of your home has become so difficult is that "the housing market has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, and the increased prices are driving up rents."

At the same time, licensing rules have become more stringent, as have safety and accessibility standards. These days it takes a lot more money to remodel your home or improve a daycare center. "There has been a lot of attention at the state and federal level to the need for quality childcare," Banta points out, "but the money often goes to nonprofit groups."

In the past year, no new childcare licenses have been issued in the 94114 and 94131 zip codes, and only two applications for new licenses have been made. Sue Humbert Rico, of the California Department of Social Services, says, "Throughout the state we've had a flat line. Just as many [childcare centers] have closed as have opened."

Lucy Vela, childcare development and training director for the Children's Council of San Francisco, agrees that "there are a few small family daycares starting up [in Noe Valley], but not many. There are not too many rentals available, and rents are too high."

Vela's agency is a nonprofit that offers help for parents and childcare workers throughout the city. Anyone interested in starting up a family daycare or childcare center should contact her at 920-7272. M

At press time, the Voice learned that Debra King School, a full-time preschool at 26th and Church, was in the process of negotiating to lease the Timothy Mouse House as a second location.

Voice 6-99 Preschools Sidebar:

Churches Find Homes for Little Bear and Little People

Patricia Finnegan, of Little Bear School -- the daycare center formerly housed at St. Aidan's Church -- says that as a result of our story ("Three Nursery Schools May Be Lost Little Lambs," March 1999 Voice), she has been approached by other two neighborhood churches: Shepherd of the Hills on Diamond Heights Boulevard, and First Church of God on Cesar Chavez Street.

"It was a very wonderful, heartening thing," says Finnegan, who was facing the loss of an 11-year-old program.

She is now looking into the feasibility of moving her school into one of those two sites. Her goal is to be up and running by September. (Little Bear serves about 50 children, ages 3 to 5. For an update, call 282-2224.)

Meanwhile, Little People's Workshop, the 23-year-old parent co-op forced to vacate its longtime home in Bernal Heights, has good news, too. On May 1, the preschool moved into Bethany Methodist Church at Sanchez and Clipper streets.

"We're incredibly grateful that [Rev.] Karen Oliveto at Bethany has been so helpful and welcoming to us," says Susan Colen, whose son Nick attends the program. "It's really been a nice transition."

Little People will occupy three rooms in the church five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. "We also get to use the big gym for an hour a day, so the kids can run around and have fun," Colen says.

Parents are required to work one day a week at the Workshop, and the program can accommodate just 11 children, ages 18 months to 3 years. But the cost is relatively low for fulltime daycare. "Right now it's $300 a month, but we're aiming for $250," says Colen.

A resident of 23rd Street, Colen is delighted with the co-op's new location. "I can walk to school now. And the kids are outside in the neighborhood every day. They go for walks, and they even take rides on the J-Church."

To ask about openings, call Little People at 647-7607. Or call Rose, new member coordinator, at 437-2579.