Closing of the Parks and Recreation Morning Preschool


Photo of Mark M. Millis building on Elm Street. Photo taken by Pema

On the 25th of April, the Arroyo Grande City Council officially voted to close the Elm Street Preschool due to the 6 million dollars it would take the city to undergo proper renovations to bring the building up to code. 

Mayor Russom pauses before delivering the emotional motion to close the preschool. Photo screenshoted from online viewing of the April 25th city council meeting.

Arroyo Grande Parks and Recreation had run the Preschool since the 1990s, in the donated Mark M. Millis building on Elm Street. It was a loved place by many families and has touched and changed many lives of growing, grown kids in our community. Unfortunately the Mark. The M. Millis building which has been standing for the last two decades was in dire need of renovations. Bill Robenson, the assistant city manager, indicated that the building’s structural integrity would be unable to last for another year, removing the compromise of keeping the preschool till 2024, off the table.

During the emotional city council meeting on the 25th, the long-time-coming decision of closing the morning preschool was officially voted on and passed. 

The decision was heartbreaking to many members of the community who had, or currently enroll their children in the preschool, which is known for its kind teachers and affordable childcare. The low prices were desirable to many parents, however, the city of Arroyo Grande could not afford to support a nonessential, non-revenue-neutral business with a 32,000$ yearly financial gap. 

During the city council meeting many suggestions were made proposing for the preschool to be relocated to an alternative location such as the women’s community club or the library along with other ideas about city fundraisers or grants to renovate the school. Though this communal effort is a great example of Arroyo Grande’s loving community, it ultimately will not be enough.

“‘Why can’t you just do what you’ve always done?’ The simple math of it is the major funding for a city comes from property tax. We have Prop 13 that holds your property taxes to 1.1%,” Mayor Russum said, “Inflation alone is 3% here and you do that in perpetuity. That’s how cities get behind. Then you start talking about double-digit inflation, and that’s how cities get really behind.”

In 2006 the Arroyo Grande city council successfully passed a tax increase, allowing for money for sidewalks, fire trucks, and other features that benefit the community.   But Citizens of Arroyo Grande declined to pass a revenue measure in November of 2022, which would have placed a 1% tax on retail purchases within the City.  If passed the measure would have led to a 5 million dollar budget increase for the city council and Arroyo Grande to work with. This could have been enough to fund the preschool. but unfortunately, it was not passed. 

Though the preschool is sentimental, the truth is that Parks and Recreation’s morning preschool is held in a building that is structurally unsound, unsafe, and unable to survive another year. Arroyo Grande does not have the funds to support the program anymore, despite how heartbreaking its closing may be for local families in the community.

This is a devastating blow to the community surrounding the preschool, it really was a pillar of the community. However, the financial cost of closing the financial gap to maintain revenue neutrality and supporting a preschool with dwindling numbers seems illogical. Arroyo Grande already has a tight budget, meaning they have a responsibility to prioritize what benefits the citizens of Arroyo Grande as a whole. It’s simply unrealistic, and that’s the hard truth. 

In the end, the Arroyo Grande city council prioritized what they believe is best for the community.  Previously stated financial constraints the city of Arroyo Grande’s council made the decision to prioritize other public services, particularly the fire department as Arroyo Grande is a fire-prone area. 

“We have to prioritize figuring out how to just make sure that when you call 911 It’s going to be okay,” Mayor Russum said. 

Universal PreK will be open to all kids in California. The Preschool will be accommodating to kids with disabilities, giving them a fair chance to learn and participate.

While the Elm Street Preschool will be dearly missed within the community, the city council has invested $100,000 of grant money into 12 local preschools to support their programs and give them the money to expand and take on new students.  This is just a temporary solution until Universal PreK is established in Arroyo Grande.

Universal PreK was passed in  2021-22 by Gavin Newsum following Biden’s plan for universal preschool. It will be instituted in the year of 2025-26. In the meantime, the YMCA will be taking over a public preschool in Arroyo Grande. They have already taken over the afterschool programs at Branch Elementary and Ocean View Elementary.