TRURO — Before the pandemic, housing and child-care access and affordability were concurrent crises for young families on the Outer Cape. The Truro Central School’s free preschool has been oversubscribed since it began in 2019. Now the situation has become more dire, local parents say.
The school committee will discuss creating an additional classroom to accommodate three-year-olds full-time at its next meeting, on April 8.
Town officials hoped to encourage young families to put down roots on the Outer Cape by launching the free program for all three- and four-year-old children of Truro residents and town employees.
What they didn’t anticipate was how popular the program would be. For two years running, there have been too few spaces. The school doesn’t promise families a full schedule of care. And it was decided to prioritize four-year-olds, leaving many working families with three-year-olds scrambling.
The enrollment request form for the 2021-2022 school year warns parents to “be aware that your preference for preschool schedule may not be available due to high registration numbers.”
At a recent Truro School Committee meeting, eight families with current and soon-to-be preschoolers spoke up, offering praise for the quality of the preschool but frustration with the lack of full-time options for three-year-olds. Adding an additional preschool classroom would, the parents said, resolve this dilemma.
There are currently 21 children enrolled in the preschool, with a maximum of 14 children per day, temporarily split between two classrooms for social distancing. Before Covid, the cap was 18 children per day in one classroom.
Mara Glatzel, the parent of one child who has attended and another who will soon attend the preschool, called the program “phenomenal.” But, she said, “something that really sticks with me is that 38 percent of the kids in the Truro elementary school are from economically disadvantaged families.” The school, she said, needs to create a new plan.
“I feel a little disheartened that we sat here about two years ago and had a very similar conversation about the needs of working families here in Truro,” said Sarah Motta, a parent of a current preschooler. “I feel like we’ve dropped the ball and fallen short on providing what we need to keep this community young and alive and to have people to work in the stores, in health care, in the schools.”
Vida Richter, the mother of a four-year-old currently in the program as well as a one-and-a-half-year-old, grew up in Provincetown but moved to Truro in 2018. When she first heard about the preschool program, she thought it was a great incentive for young families. “Child care has become such a huge expense,” she said. Families “need all the help they can get in order to stay here.”
Now Richter is running for one of two open positions on the school committee. “The board could really benefit from parents who have children in the school system and who are going to be affected by what is happening now,” Richter said. She said that the pandemic has particularly affected low-income families, people of color, and mothers. “Not everyone has the option of staying home,” she said.
“When you have full-time jobs, preschool is more than necessary — it’s everything,” said Claire Adams, the parent of a three-year-old and co-owner of Salty Market in North Truro along with her husband, Ellery Althaus. They are currently paying for private child care, which is expensive, hard to arrange, and requires an early commitment. Since they don’t yet know which days they can have their daughter at the town preschool, “we might find ourselves in a really difficult situation where we don’t have child care,” she said. If that happened, they would have to sacrifice their business, she added.
On the town meeting warrant this year, there is a petitioned article for a child-care voucher program. If adopted, the program would provide two- and three-year-old children of Truro residents and town employees a maximum of $7,500 per year to attend a state-licensed child-care or preschool program. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Massachusetts is the second most expensive state in the nation for child care, with $20,913 the average annual cost of infant care.
There is currently one private child-care business in Truro.
Kolby Blehm, a school committee member and parent of two young children, said it bothered him to hear people talk about parents being disappointed about not getting the preschool days they requested. “Disappointment is not being able to go golfing on a nice day,” Blehm said. “The scramble for quality early childhood education is a detriment. It is a detriment to the long-term viability of this town and its demographics.”
There are a lot of variables in determining how many days a child will get this year, acting Central School Principal and Assistant Supt. Stephanie Costigan told the Independent, but this past school year they were able to provide at least two to three days. Ultimately, “it depends on the registration numbers,” she said.
School committee chair Ken Oxtoby said there is potential for the preschool to expand into two classes. “Should we do due diligence and see what we can do? I think we should,” he said. It’s more complicated than just the money, said committee member Michelle Jarusiewicz, “but I think we should give it a good hard look.”
“Now, obviously there is a great community need,” said Costigan. “We are listening, and we are trying the best we can.”
The Truro Central School preschool program opened enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year on March 22. Registration forms and enrollment requests are available online at truromass.org/pk-registration. The forms must be returned to the school office by April 5. Call Lynne Ready, early childhood coordinator, with questions: 508-487-1558 ext. 216.