Recreation Department May Phase Out Preschool Program

The City Council has directed the city to develop a plan to phase out the preschool program from the Recreation Department’s offerings to the public, the first step in what could be more changes to the department.
A separate motion to work on eliminating the department’s after-school programming failed simply because no council member seconded the motion. In the meantime, a separate motion directing City Manager Marcella Marlowe to meet with San Marino Unified School District officials on a possible after-school partnership passed unanimously.
At the request of Mayor Steve Talt, who cast the only vote against shuttering the preschool, the City Council will revisit the Recreation Department discussion at the June 13 meeting, on a Wednesday, with the hope of giving more residents an opportunity to weigh in. Marlowe also plans to have data on resident usage by program.
“When you take a look at the usage, I think you have to take a look at the usage of how many senior programs we have and how many of the seniors use it,” Talt explained, drawing a similar path for youth programs and youth participation.
The discussion at Friday’s study session came after Recreation Department officials asked the city to give them direction regarding the department’s future operations. The department has, at its own meetings, discussed whether to expand or contract programming and also whether it should continue opening up programs to nonresidents.
Ultimately, Talt declared, officials should establish which programs are run as a public service (such as senior citizen-centric classes) or as an alternative to other offerings (for example, preschool) and go from there.
“When the government runs a program that is typically something that the private entities do, then government should be more focused that it is run as a business,” Talt said. “You don’t run police, fire or planning like a business, because that’s not so much available in the private industry.”
Councilman Ken Ude, whose election campaign hinged on the “run government more like a business” mantra, echoed this sentiment. He ended up making the motions to develop plans to close the preschool and after-school programs, which he identified as an unnecessary liability risk.
“To me, the main thing is the lack of usage,” he added, referencing the preschool’s enrollment of around 30. “I think the city should focus more on city services and the schools should focus on education.”
Recreation Department commissioners were on hand to defend the department’s work and advocate for the continuation of its programming.
“I really urge the members of the City Council to use a sense of balance when you make any decisions with regards to recreation,” said Commissioner Louise Cook. “We also need a quality of life, and that is the soul of the city. It is a soft issue, but it is an imperative issue. I appreciate your being fiscally responsible, but I really urge that you use a sense of balance and appreciate the role of the Recreation Department and the role of the library, because that is the soul of the city.”
The commissioners’ pleas resonated with City Council members. Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski urged that the city does not take an “elitist” approach by excluding nonresidents, but also voiced her displeasure with the preschool’s current location in the Stoneman building.
“I do feel embarrassed that we have our preschool in Stoneman,” she said. “We have ADA [disability access] issues, we have hot water issues and we have repair issues.”
Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey said the Recreation Department adds a quality of life for San Marino residents.
“For me, the purpose of the rec department is to serve the residents first and provide community enrichment,” she said. “For me, the rec department is not about cost recovery.”

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