Thursday, August 13, 2009

Letter by Parent/Member Pete Deutschman


Dr. James Gardner
Ron Allen
David Glick
Julia Lieberman
Michael Glover
cc: Cynthia Valdes, Members of Lake Forest Community Association, Parents of current and returning preschool students and select press

Today is a very sad day for all the residents and members of Lake Forest Community Association as word of Lakeview Learning Center’s closing spread across the community. Sending my daughter home with the surprise letter along with the return of our deposit check was a shock to all of us. The purpose of this letter is to express my personal disappointment. On behalf of several members and parents, I'd also like to offer observations and ask specific questions regarding what triggered the five member Board’s decision to unilaterally close Lakeview Learning Center effective August 28th, just 12 business days from today.

I am not a community activist. I respect the time you give to our community. I hope that we can open lines of communications around what has become a very urgent issue to many parents and members as a way of resolving and salvaging an amazingly valuable program to our community.

I agree with Ms. Valdes that “Lakeview Learning Center is a long-standing tradition” within our community. As the son of a preschool teacher, my wife and I value quality early education. We understand its importance in preparing our kids for Kindergarten and social activities such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and swimming programs the Association directly or indirectly supports. Like other current parents and countless Association members before us, my wife and I searched high and low to find a preschool for our daughter and eventually for our younger son. We were thrilled to find the perfect preschool right at “our” Clubhouse. We were specifically drawn to the fact that Lakeview Learning Center is one of the very few select preschools in South Orange County to be State accredited.

We continue to be impressed by the quality, care, and commitment the Lakeshore Learning Center/PCM staff demonstrates to our kids. Calling it a hidden gem is an understatement. That is why I am shocked to find out The Board views the preschool as a liability to the community, rather than the asset that it truly is. I am not alone in this belief and would expect that several phone calls and letters will be arriving from parents, residents, and other concerned community members who see the benefits of Lake Forest Community Association’s Lakeview Learning Center to all of us.

Certainly these are difficult times. As a business owner myself, I understand that we are all affected by the state of our economy. Tough times make for tough decisions. However, I believe that the parents and members deserve a complete and thorough understanding of what lead to this decision. Following a brief conversation with Ms. Valdes this evening and other research, I would like The Boards clarification on several facts.

i) In the May 2009 President’s Letter, Dr. Gardner carefully outlined actions taken to reduce expenses. He outlined several reductions to operational and non-material items. In the only documented reference to the preschool’s status, he outlined the preschool as a “remaining challenge” stating:

ii) “Despite the best efforts of our staff, the preschool continues to lose money. Some homeowners object to underwriting the costs of providing preschool education, especially to children who do not live in our Association. The Board has been struggling with this issue for the past six months and we hope to have a viable plan in the near future. We believe the preschool is a valuable asset for our homeowners, and we are hoping to develop a plan that either increases revenue or reduces costs so that the preschool is selfsustaining.”

iii) Please provide clarification on the following points:

1. As I understand it, the main reason for the preschool closure is due to a budget deficit. Dr. Gardner’s point of “preschool continues to lose money.”

a. What is the deficit we are talking about? Ms. Valdes and Ms. Cienfuegos suggested we were talking about $5,000 per year. Certainly that cannot be the reason to shut down such a great school and "valuable asset."

2. Timing and Ultimatum

a. At the start of the summer program, the staff was provided an ultimatum: Increase tuition and increase enrollment for the fall program or the preschool would be shut down. Increased enrollment expectation was set to 42 students, the maximum state licensed limit. With limited research, I learned that very few schools possess a 100% occupancy year-round, especially in these difficult times. Regardless, the staff was not allowed to communicate this ultimatum nor the goals with parents. This is most upsetting to me personally as this information would have given us the summer to rally behind the school and address The Board's concerns. What was the rationale of not including members in these goals?

b. Best efforts of the staff vs. setting up for failure?

i. Limitations: Dr. Gardner says "despite the best efforts of our staff." It is important to understand that while these may have been best efforts, they were performed with limitations making it difficult to succeed.

ii. Advertising and Marketing: Staff was/is not permitted to advertise in places other than Village News (the Lake Forest Community Association) and has been provided a full page ad month over month. When the preschool seemingly needed it the most, the community management team reduced the size of this ad to approximately ¼ size.

iii. Word of Mouth: As stated before, the fact that parents were not made aware of the Board's ultimatum is infuriating. Word of mouth represents a majority of enrollment for organizations like this. Who better to speak to the values of the preschool than the parents? Not providing the parents with ample communication and the ability to support the already hamstrung marketing efforts is criminal.

3. Dr. Gardner says, “Some homeowners object to underwriting the costs of providing preschool education, especially to children who do not live in our Association”.

a. Open enrollment was approved by The Board several years ago as means of finding new students and increasing revenue. Ancillary to the additional revenue, young families come to the Clubhouse daily to drop off and pick up their kids learning about all the other revenue generating member and non-member programs the Association is funding. Young families are the future of our community and the Association should be looking to do whatever we can to promote ourselves as family-friendly and desirable.

b. The statement that "some homeowners object” is suspect. I regret not speaking up when first reading this in the May 2009 issue. Isn't the purpose of the Board to listen to both sides and allow the homeowners at large to vote on how their money is best spent?

4. For the past 11 years, at the request of past Boards, the preschool has evolved from a part-time program to a full-time, fully accredited program.

a. During this time, the preschool has been profitable -- many times contributing more than $25,000 per year on those good years. As the Association is a not-for-profit entity, surely those funds were put in some sort of reserve for difficult times such as these?

b. The preschool is fortunate to have had many staff/teachers remain committed to the school year after year. With retention comes cost of living increases (3%) and thus the need to increase adjust revenue and/or expenses. Our courageous preschool staff worked hard to increase enrollment and revenue including tuition increase of 10% as approved by The Board in May 2009.

c. Was there another reason? With no ability to market, a down economy, and the inability to tell those who value the services the most (the parents), I believe the staff was set up for failure. Was there some other reason for the decision to shut down the preschool? Dr. Gardner doesn’t reference that in his letter nor do the last few months of Minutes allude to this expense.

i. In the winter of 2008/2009, during the time Dr. Gardner was running for City Council, he came to speak at our teacher/parent Open House. He spoke for several minutes about The Board’s passion for this preschool and how THIS board was committed to the preschool as a service and amenity. He went on to boast that within 2-3 weeks (during the winter break of 2008/2009) that the preschool would go through a much-needed overhaul and that budgets had been allocated. This was news to the staff and they were thrilled to hear that such a commitment and investment was to be made. This was the first we heard of needed improvements and the last we heard of “a new preschool.” Much like other politicians before him, this promise was not to come to fruition. What is the cost to retrofit the preschool including logistical fees of temporary housing? If this was budgeted as Dr. Gardner indicated to all of us members, what changed?

ii. Another known plan is to convert the facility into a gym. This would certainly not reduce costs to the Association as Dr. Gardner and The Board set out to accomplish. If we are looking to reduce liability, increasing the size of a gym is not a good move for members.

Moving Forward

Understanding that there are several points of clarification awaiting The Board’s response, we (the Parents and members) are now faced with the sense of urgency to save the preschool and are willing to do whatever we can to do so. I sincerely hope that through open dialog we can come up with a few action items which will put The Board at ease and encourage reversal of their Thursday, August 6th decision to close the preschool. As a means of demonstrating our commitment, a parent council will be formed in effort of better supporting staff in marketing and most importantly raising the needed funds to be “self-sufficient” should that be what The Board is looking for.

· Staff sought out sponsors for some of the Association events and noted that over $1000 was raised. There is no reason why the preschool can’t do the same

· Development of Fundraising Activities: Auctions, family days, corporate underwriting, personal fundraisers and the like.

I look forward to meeting you all at Wednesday’s board meeting and introducing you to some of the other parents/members who feel just as strongly as I do.


Pete Deutschman

Parent of Chloe Deutschman


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