Church rejects offer to keep preschool open

The Scottsdale City Council approved increased rates and fees for a number of city utilities and services. The new rates will go into effect throughout 2019.

There will be no saving grace for the 55-year-old preschool program at Scottsdale United Methodist Church, which closed at the end of the school year.

A last-ditch effort to save it was not approved by church leadership, though parents and staff are still holding out hope that they can move some version of the school to a new location.

The preschool, a legacy operation at one of Scottsdale’s oldest churches, ceased operations at the end of the most recent school year due to congregation’s financial struggles.

Pastor Rev. Ann Lyter said the church had long subsidized the preschool’s operating costs and could no longer afford it.

A group of parents, who were notified of the closure just weeks before the end of the school year, immediately mobilized to put together a plan to keep the school open.

Church leadership told parents, via Lyter, that they could keep the school open for one additional year if the parents could raise $30,000 in a week to cover the annual contribution made by the church.

Leaders denied a counter offer by parents that would have provided higher monthly payments instead of the $30,000 lump sum payment, parent Jennifer Hibbard said.

The ultimate goal was to organize the preschool under a new business entity separate from the church and pay rent like any other tenant. Historically, the preschool has operated as a part of the church.

“The Leadership Council of Scottsdale UMC has carefully and prayerfully considered the proposal you sent,” Lyter wrote parents.

“We have also reviewed the financial information of the Preschool, including its actual enrollment and current finances. It is with regret that we cannot accept this proposal, regret because we value the long history of the preschool and the excellent education the program provided,” she wrote.

There is some discrepancy as to where the preschool’s enrollment stands.

Lyter, in the email to parents, said it was below 30 children.

Hibbard, however, had previously told the Progress that enrollment was over 30 children.

Lyter also wrote that some aspects of the proposal were based on “inaccurate” financials.

She said the proposal did not account for a $4,000 licensing fee and drew upon a $10,000 checking account reserve that Lyter said does not exist.

“Sadly, the financial information confirms that the Preschool, should it remain in operation, would not be able to meet its ongoing operating expenses, even if the church could afford to continue its current level of subsidy to the program,” Lyter wrote.

Preschool Director Jordan Picasso said the preschool has been in good financial shape since she took over in fall 2018.

Hibbard said a parent with a professional background in finance had looked at financials for the school and believed it could sustain operations without church support in the future.

Prior to Picasso taking over, the school had faced issues and required financial assistance from the church beyond the annual subsidy, but Picasso pinned those problems on allegations of financial impropriety against a former preschool director.

A former director is being investigated by Scottsdale Police for allegedly stealing over $6,000 in parent payments, according to police records.

The Progress is not naming that individual because the case is ongoing and no charges have been filed to date.

Hibbard said she has plans to speak with Picasso and other parents to discuss the possibility of opening up a new co-op preschool in southern Scottsdale.

In the meantime, Lyter addressed concerns that the late notice of the SUMCP closure will displace teachers and students who had already signed up for summer and fall.

Lyter told parents that Dr. Nola Enge at The Hills School has committed to accepting 100 percent of the families displaced by the SUMCP closure for the next summer or fall session.

She also wrote that teachers have already received job offers.

The Hills School is located in the Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix,  just under three miles away from Scottsdale United Methodist campus.

Enge offered to reduce tuition for SUMCP parents for six months and provide rooms so SUMCP students and teachers could continue their existing program, Lyter said.

It is unclear if the SUMCP parents will take that offer.