TAEYEON KIM/SAGAMORE STAFF
At a meeting held on Oct.17, it was confirmed that the Brookline Staff Children’s Center will have to leave their current location at the Baldwin School in South Brookline.
The meeting included BSSCC representatives Jenny Longmire, Kathryn Leslie and Brittany Stevens and town representatives Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis and School Committee chair Julie Schreiner-Oldham and member Helen Charlupski. Headmaster Anthony Meyer was also present.
For 40 years, the BSSCC has been providing daycare and pre-kindergarten to children of Brookline Schools’ staff. Now, due to space and budgeting issues, the center’s future is in jeopardy if a new location is not found by January, when the center opens enrollment.
According to BSSCC Director Jane Pinto, the center’s location and hours are tailored to provide convenient and reliable childcare for Brookline educators so they can focus on teaching.
The center has operated out of the Baldwin School in South Brookline for 26 years, but last year town officials informed them that they would have to leave the site after the 2019-2020 school year.
Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis emailed The Sagamore with a statement regarding the situation. He cited insufficient space for pre-kindergarten classrooms and staff offices among other programs as reason for the removal of the BSSCC from its current location. He also noted that, in order to rent classroom spaces, the public schools are paying close to $1.5 million.
Lummis wrote: “The School Committee and I fully acknowledge the value and benefit of the caring community that the BSSCC has built over the years. For 40 years, it has provided a tremendous service to school staff and their families.” He later concluded, “Because of this extreme space shortage and the challenges of the upcoming annual budgets, we will have to make many difficult decisions in the months to come.”
Last fall, Pinto met with school committee officials and former superintendent Andrew Bott, who assured her that the town would assist them in locating a new site. Then, in June, Bott told the center that a new space had not been located.
“At that point, it seemed as though a long term capital plan had been made,” Pinto said. “It was discouraging to not be in that plan.”
According to Pinto, the BSSCC was allowed to operate out of Baldwin rent-free for much of its history. However, the center has been paying rent, though at a reduced rate, for the last five years, with utilities still covered by the town.
One cause of the shift in support was the proposal that the Baldwin site should house the ninth elementary school. Even though that plan was voted down, town officials are still requiring the center to leave.
Until recently, the BSSCC had been looking at a house at 55 Newton Street as an alternative space. Social Studies teacher Kathryn Leslie, who sends her child to the BSSCC, said that the plan broke down due to zoning issues and the high cost of prospective renovations. Leslie spearheaded much of the efforts to secure the required funds for the space.
Renovation costs for the building would likely have exceeded $500,000, a sum the program would have had to raise themselves. By the third week of August, the 55 Newton Street property was no longer being considered as an alternative to the Baldwin School.
According to Leslie, no easy solutions to this problem have been found.
“As of now, we have no perfect options,” Leslie said. “We’re looking for a temporary solution. We’re looking at temples and churches all over Brookline, since they have less expensive space and they tend to be willing to rent to teachers who are trying to find childcare for their kids.”
Leslie said that the town is looking to either move Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP) classrooms or administrative office space into the Baldwin location, forcing BSSCC to move.
Biology teacher Elizabeth Crane, whose daughter attended BSSCC for three years, said that by asking BSSCC to leave and not majorly assisting in finding an alternative location, the town is damaging a vibrant community.
“When a place that you love that has been so good to your family and your children might be forced to close, it feels very personal,” she said. “I feel enormously grateful for the relationships that I cultivated when I was part of BSSCC, and I know that they are a part of the reason I feel as committed to this district as I do.”
Decisions regarding town land use are made by the elected select board, but when asked to comment about the center’s land concerns, select board member Heather Hamilton told the Sagamore in an email that since this issue had not been presented to them, they did not feel informed enough to comment and select board member Raul Fernandez declined to comment because he did not feel informed enough to do so.
School Committee member Sharon Abramowitz declined to comment.
School Committee Student Representative Levi Cannon said that the decisions concerning the BSSCC were made in closed-door sessions, and therefore he was not in a position to comment on them.
Pinto said that having to compete against the market as a childcare center may lead the center to expand beyond only serving Brookline educators and their families.
“I’m still optimistic that a creative solution exists,” Pinto said. “But what has really come home is the cost. Having to cover rent and utilities will change this program, whether that is the quality level or who it serves.”
Crane said that the BSSCC teachers continue to provide high quality education, and that the peace of mind their professionalism brought allowed her to dedicate herself to her own students.
“The teachers and the director are just top-notch professionals. They’re extremely caring, they’re extremely dedicated, they’re extremely well-versed in everything related to early childhood education,” Crane said.
According to Crane, BSSCC has improved the Brookline schools by fostering collaboration between the teachers of the large Brookline school district. She added that many teachers attended the School Committee public hearings on Sep. 23 and Sep. 26 wearing their ‘I love BSSCC’ shirts.
“The fact that so many teachers came out on such short notice speaks to how much love we have for this place and how important it is for us to see it supported by the town so that in years to come, teachers can continue to benefit from the excellent care and the sense of community that it cultivates,” she said.
Crane concluded that though she understood the complexity of the town’s space issues, she wished that the BSSCC was receiving more support.
“Anything that the town can do to preserve and strengthen relationships with its teachers ultimately makes for a stronger school system, and vice versa,” Crane said. “The BSSCC is an example of a structure that has catalyzed the formation of so many relationships over time, and so taking that away weakens our school system.”