Public pre-K would impact private facilities

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — If the elementary schools in Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont start pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds next year, they could significantly affect several of the island’s private childcare facilities.

Aaron Long, executive director of the Mount Desert Nursery School in Northeast Harbor, said the proposed Mount Desert Elementary School program is likely to have “a sizeable impact on our day-to-day operations.”

“We are a small, independent nonprofit in a small location on a small island. Losing even a few children to another program will be significant and will necessitate changes.”

Long said that of the 21 children currently enrolled at Mount Desert Nursery School, seven would be able to go to kindergarten or pre-K at MDES next year.

“Additionally, with the possibility of Pemetic [Elementary School] hosting a pre-K program for Southwest Harbor and Tremont residents, we would potentially lose five more children,” Long said.

Mount Desert Nursery School charges $42 a day with a two-days-a week minimum. The pre-K program at Mount Desert Elementary would be free for Mount Desert residents. As currently proposed, it could accommodate up to 16 children.

At least two childcare facilities in Southwest Harbor likely would be affected by the proposed creation of half-day pre-K programs at Pemetic for children who live in Southwest Harbor and Tremont. As currently envisioned by school officials in the two towns, Tremont 4-year-olds would attend pre-K at Pemetic in the mornings and Southwest Harbor children would go in the afternoons.

For working parents, that raises the question of where their children would be during the half-day they aren’t in the public pre-K program. School officials say they plan to reach out to private preschool providers about bridging the gap, and they have already spoken with administrators at the Harbor House Children’s Center. It is the largest such facility in the two towns and is located adjacent to the Pemetic property.

“We’ve just been talking through how things might work for the schools to partner with us or some other entities,” said Harbor House Executive Director Ingrid Kachmar.

“We can be a care provider option for parents who need that. But it’s not like the Tremont and Southwest Harbor pre-K programs are designed so that parents’ only option would be to utilize Harbor Hours. Parents could do any number of things.

“If their child participates in public pre-K, they wouldn’t automatically go to Harbor House [for the other half of the day],” she continued.

It seems likely that Harbor House would lose some children for half a day to the schools’ pre-K program, while it would gain children for half a day who might otherwise go to another childcare facility or none at all.

Kachmar wears two hats when it comes to the question of providing pre-K services. In addition to being in charge of Harbor House and its children’s center, she serves on the Southwest Harbor School Committee.

Asked if that is an awkward position to be in, she said, “Generally not because the mission of Harbor House is clearly to support the community. And there are members of the community who either can’t afford the [private] preschool cost or choose not to send their children. So, for whatever reason, there are kids who are not being served, and that’s why I personally support the public pre-K program.”

If the schools’ program is established and some parents choose to send their children to the Harbor House Children’s Center for half of each day, “We’ll make adjustments,” Kachmar said.

“Our programming will continue to provide the all-day kids with what they need and provide the half-day kids with a positive experience, too.”

Jennifer Sargent, owner of Love of a Mother childcare center in Southwest Harbor, indicated last week that she has mixed feelings about the prospect of the Southwest Harbor and Tremont schools offering pre-K.

“I think it’s wonderful in one respect; it’s something the island needs,” she said. “On the flip side, it would probably cause a decrease in our enrollment. It could affect us significantly.”

Sargent said that if each of the elementary schools offers only a half-day pre-K program, as currently proposed, and expects parents to make other arrangements for their children for the rest of the day, that could be difficult.

“I wouldn’t be able to offer half-day slots,” she said.

Both the Harbor House Children’s Center and Love of a Mother charge $170 a week ($34 a day) for children age 3 and older. Daily rates at both facilities are higher for less than full-week enrollments.


Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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