Not enough kids in this school

CREATIVE MINDS <br>Mother Shari Maurseth helps youngsters at Chico Nursery School build a ship on the playground.

Mother Shari Maurseth helps youngsters at Chico Nursery School build a ship on the playground.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

In 1968, a group of parents in a Butte College class got together and decided to start a nursery school for their kids. It would be a parent co-op, where each of them would dedicate time to help supervise and keep costs down.

Now, 38 years later, Chico Nursery School is still kicking—barely. And the very thing that makes Chico Nursery School special and desirable may be what’s holding it back.

The school year started just a few weeks ago, and enrollment is painfully low. With room for 42 children, only 22 are signed up. If more don’t join soon, the school could be forced to close come January.

“Right now we’re not making any money,” said Katherine Chapin, mother of one student and president of the school. “We’re losing money every month. We don’t even have enough money to buy curriculum items for the school or nutrition for the day.”

Parents work at the school one morning each week per child—the school day lasts from 8:45 to noon. In addition to working, parents must attend monthly meetings and serve on special committees. While parents cherish the opportunity to be involved in their children’s learning, the time commitment is too much for some.

“What I really like about it is it gives parents an opportunity to be involved in their kids’ education and to see what’s happening,” Chapin said.

Parents and the school’s one paid employee, Patty Nelson, monitor the two classrooms and the playground, and kids are allowed to choose their own activities.

“Chico Nursery School truly is the best nursery school program in Chico,” said Geena Snider, whose twins, now 4 1/2, attended Chico Nursery until this year, when she transferred them to Bidwell Academy for Young Children so she could return to work. Bidwell Academy opened in February and has 80 kids enrolled in its preschool program.

“The needs for our family had changed,” Snider said. “I needed a place where I could be a little more flexible with hours.”

She counted at least 10 children who switched nursery schools this year—most because one parent went back to work or school.

“There aren’t as many parents who stay at home anymore,” Snider said. “People are buying these houses that are out-of-this-world expensive and they have to work. It’s hard to have everything.”

The nonprofit co-op keeps prices low—$85 a month for the two-day class, ages 2 years 9 months to 4 years old; and $115 for the three-day class, for those 3 years 9 months to kindergarten age. There are also fees for materials and registration. (As a comparison, Innovative Preschool Inc. charges $205 per month for its three-day-a-week program.)

A $200 a month increase last year in rent from the Congregational Church on First Avenue plus the $1,800 the school must pay for accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children this year mean higher costs than revenues.

“We’re looking for other funding sources in the community,” like the Soroptimists, said Nelson, who has served as the school’s director for 10 years.

They are also hoping to enroll more students, even though the school year has already started.

“A lot of people don’t know we still have space,” Nelson said. She is confident that the school will remain open and sees this year as more of a blip on the radar than a trend.

“It’s sad for me to know that the enrollment is low because I know what a great experience a child would have there,” Snider said.