To learn more about North Routt Preschool’s ongoing fundraiser, call the school at 970-871-4559.
A debt of $19,000 still looms, as does a mortgage of more than $200,000. Old bills still need to be paid, too. Major challenges lie ahead.
But Kerri Ann Crocker said Wednesday that simple gifts of Play-Doh, garden seeds and hours of time are keeping the North Routt Preschool alive.
“In this tough economy, not all community members are able to donate money,” said Crocker, who left a job at a construction company last year to become the preschool’s executive director. “Instead, they donate toys, paper goods and craft projects when they can. They find other ways to contribute.”
Before Crocker’s arrival, the Clark preschool was forced to close its doors nearly eight months ago when payroll couldn’t be met and the school’s immediate debts grew to about $46,000. A $25,000 loan from the Routt County Board of Commissioners allowed the school to reopen, and Crocker said the campus has since operated with a smaller staff and whittled that debt down to about $19,000.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Crocker said about leading the school through the financial turmoil. “There have been months where meeting our budget has been a challenge.”
But with jovial schoolchildren occupying the small building every weekday, there’s plenty to keep Crocker motivated, and distracted, from budget spreadsheets and shortfalls.
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, a child started to cry at the small preschool in Clark.
“We’re going to go see some friends,” Crocker said as tears slowly subsided from the child’s face. The outburst quickly faded.
With the child calm, the director led three of her students along a short path to the North Routt Charter School. A group of elementary school students were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the youngsters from the neighboring campus. Four charter school students held open two sets of doors at their new campus.
“This is the best part of being on the same campus now,” charter school teacher Amy Cosgrove said as she watched her students read aloud to the preschoolers. Cosgrove serves on the preschool’s board of directors, and she said the new building she was standing in has strengthened the relationship with the preschool.
“When our campus was down the street, it was hard to host things like this because of transportation issues,” she said. “It’s great to see them working together now. Both groups of students benefit from this.”
Up on top of a bunk bed, 3-year-old Gracie Piret flipped through the pages of a picture book as a group of three older girls made sure she understood the storyline. Gracie and the other preschoolers walk to the charter school every Wednesday for the “reading buddy” sessions, and they return every Thursday for physical education lessons with fifth- and sixth-graders.
“Being in a small community, it’s really nice when you can collaborate and when you can get the preschoolers to do activities with the older kids,” Crocker said. “My students were a little shy in the beginning, but they’ve really started to open up, and they look forward to this every week.”
Still in the red
Crocker said the preschool serves 20 kids but no more than 15 per day. The low enrollment remains a concern in the campus’s tough financial picture.
“The ticket is to get the enrollment up to meet the day-to-day operations,” said Vickie Clark, director of Routt County’s Department of Human Services. The preschool has provided Clark with regular financial statements since the school accepted the zero-interest loan from the county. Clark said the financial statements show the preschool still has been running in the red by several thousand dollars throughout many months.
“It’s something we worry about,” Clark said.
As the preschool collaborates more with its neighbors, Crocker said it is doing so with a smaller staff and a more frugal budget. The facility’s infant room remains closed in the wake of the financial shortfalls. Old bills for classroom materials, fuel, payroll taxes, snow plowing and an audit have to be paid. Crocker devotes 50 percent of her time at the school to the classroom.
“We’ve been paying what we could since I took over, but to continue to operate, we have not been able to attack (the debt) very aggressively,” the director said.
But the community has taken notice. Preschool board President Brandon LaChance said the recent chili cook-off at Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse plus donations from community members have allowed the school to raise $6,500 toward the debt. He said a challenge grant from the Entelco Foundation, which has ties to a North Routt business, will match as much as $9,500 in donations to the preschool.
“It would alleviate our short-term debt,” he said. “It’s been an amazing challenge, but the community has definitely stepped up to support us.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com