Preschool officials seek town funding

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Kelly Surerus, president of the Board of Directors of the Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center, appealed to the Town Board Tuesday for help in funding the preschool.

Representatives of the Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center made a case for funding, asking the Town Board Tuesday afternoon for $25,000.

That would provide funding through the end of the current school year for the morning pre-school, along with a small cushion for the September term.

Town Board members applauded the program, but it appears doubtful the town would foot the total bill.

Expenses between now and June 30, to cover teacher salaries, rent at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, payroll taxes, federal taxes, housekeeping costs and billing fees, total $38,255. The organization of parents running the preschool estimates they will fall short by $21,255. The school pays its head teacher $28,000, and a teacher assistant $20,000 for the full school year.

Tuitions are expected to bring in $13,155. An upcoming dodgeball fundraising event will total about $4,000, according to the group’s treasurer, Karena Shields.

Councilman Jim Colligan suggested the group contact the Shelter Island Association (SIA), which has representatives from neighborhood associations.

Mr. Colligan said the SIA might provide some money, while some deep-pocketed individuals might also contribute.

The Shelter Island School District has been supportive of the private preschool program, but by law can’t spend public money to help meet the financial needs outlined to the Town Board.

Until a few years ago, the private preschool offered classes for children between the ages of 2 and 4. But the Shelter Island School District now provides preschool classes for 4-year olds, and that has cut into the pre-school’s income.

Kelly Surerus, the school’s board president, made the case of the value the school brings to the community, explaining that students who stay on the Island are more likely to remain here when they reach age 4. If they are sent off-Island, they are more likely to make friends in Sag Harbor or at Hayground School and not become Shelter Island students, Ms. Surerus said.

While most of the preschool students’ families pay tuition, the faculty doesn’t turn away a student whose family doesn’t have the resources, she said.

“Early education has a lasting impact on kids forever,” Ms. Surerus said.

Adding to the morning preschool program for 2- and 3-year olds is a forest program offered on the grounds of Sylvester Manor. Hannah Gray, who is the head teacher, said the only other program of its kind in the state is in Brooklyn.

The forest program is “unique” in taking advantage of the Island’s natural resources and teaching 4-year olds about nature, Ms. Gray said.

Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams said she wished there had been a preschool program on the Island when she was raising her children.

Many parents work, and having a program on the Island that can involve their children affords them the opportunity to hold their jobs with little interruption during the school day, Ms. Surerus said.

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