Parents, teachers shocked over sudden school closing in Palm Beach Gardens

Center for Early Learning closing amid budget cuts

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - A sudden school closure is sending parents and teachers into a frenzy.

Palm Beach State College is closing a special learning center for young children and teachers will be losing jobs.

The Center for Early Learning on the Palm Beach Gardens campus will close in June 2018 due to budget cuts.

About 20 teachers are losing jobs and 80 families are affected.

Parents like Celine Ali-Martin say they were blindsided by the news. The mother of a newborn has enough on her hands and has relied on the center to care for her other little ones but like countless other parents, she's now scrambling.

"It's really hard. It's something I don't think we can find anywhere else," she said.

Parents got a letter from the school two days ago announcing the closing. Palm Beach State College president Ava Parker says the school lost $1 million in state funding this year.

"As a result, the College has had to prioritize the funding of academic and student-focused programs. This has led to the shutdown of programs that we are passionate about, including programs that provide valuable services to our communities," Parker said in the letter. "The Center has required significant financial backing from the College’s operating budget over the past few years to continue to provide the quality and service your children deserve."

Parents say they wish they could have been involved in the discussions before a decision was made to close the campus.

"The part that I'm really struggling to wrap my mind around is why closing the center was the only option on the table. I feel like there were other options," said Ali-Martin.

The center opened in 2001 for the children of staff and students but since expanded to the public and is now mostly made up of outside families. Only 20 percent of the children come from families associated with the school, according to PBSC officials. The school says it could no longer afford to continue funding the center.

"We thought it might have been a joke," said one teacher who spoke to us anonymously.

That teacher said she was devastated when she was notified of the closing on Tuesday.

"Losing this building and this position and this opportunity, I can't look at the children in the eyes, I can't look at the parents. I'm lost. I'm broken," she said.

She's now forced to look for another job but isn't sure where to start.

"I'm losing a family, I'm losing a life. I've been there for so long. I'm losing so much," she added.

Parents like Christina Filis are so outraged, they banded together started a petition.

"We were shocked we were absolutely shocked," said Filis. "We're the only ones who can truly have a voice. These are more than just teachers, they are an extension of our families," 

The school will close on June 15, 2018. Teachers will get severance pay and benefits through July.

"I know many of them have been there for 17 years. It's impacted their lives. We're speechless, we're in tears over there," said Filis. "What if we know donors? What if we know ways of getting grants? But not even vocalizing this and giving parents a voice in this has been very very difficult."

Other schools are an option but parents told me they are already on long wait lists. 

This coming Tuesday night in Boca Raton there will be a public board meeting for the college. A number of parents are expected to be there to voice their concerns.

"I would like to think that the voice of the people count for something. And the fact that they're devastating 80 families and all of the staff," said Ali-Martin.

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