Save the Paul Bunyan Early Childhood Center!

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On Monday, February 22nd, Bemidji Area Schools School Board members will vote on whether or not to close the Paul Bunyan Center and move Early Childhood Family Education, 3 to 5 year old preschool School Readiness (ECFE/SR) and Early Childhood Special Education into the elementary schools!   
 
Paul Bunyan Early Childhood Center houses all of Bemidji School’s Early Childhood programs in one location creating high quality, developmentally appropriate programs for children ages birth to five and their caregivers. The Paul Bunyan Center was designed specifically for young children. All the facilities are developmentally and physically appropriate. The classrooms are spacious for gross motor play. The bathrooms are equipped with very small toilets for potty-training and changing tables for infants. The Paul Bunyan Center’s playground was built for younger kids, with age-appropriate equipment like low monkey bars, short plastic slides, and sand boxes. Most importantly, the Paul Bunyan Center’s playground is fenced in, to ensure the children do not run off. The Paul Bunyan Center has a small cafeteria, ideal for young kids, with cafeteria workers who create age-appropriate breakfasts and lunches. The facilities offered at elementary schools are simply not made for children under age five, lending to safety concerns and an inappropriate environment for our youngest learners.  
  
The Paul Bunyan Early Childhood Center is a place for collaboration between all early childhood professionals and programs in our district. They share space and materials for activities, resources for classes and parent education, and provide services like Early Childhood screening. The center hosts family nights like the annual Fall Festival with a pumpkin patch, Santa Night, and family craft projects on cold winter weekends. These are held at the center, where the ECFE/ESR classes occur. Kids and parents are familiar with the space and they have a sense of community and comraderies with the kids not just from their classes, but with the other families in the center. The educators and families know each other from classes and activities, from the hallways, and from special events. It is a safe building, filled with trained specialists in early childhood education.  
 
The loss of the Paul Bunyan Center could actually cost the district students, not just for early child education, but for their entire academic path. The safety risks and loss of developmentally appropriate facilities may drive families from the district offerings into private programs (e.g. Heartland Christian Academy, St. Philip’s Catholic School, Apple Blossom Community of Learners, etc.). Once in a pre-kindergarten program at a private school, parents are more likely to remain there for the elementary years. Abandoning the Paul Bunyan Center is only estimated to save $80,000 annually, while the district is facing a $5.6 million deficit. With $7,500 district revenue per child, losing only 11 early child education students would negate the proposed savings. It may actually cost the district in the long term with the loss of revenue for just a handful of children! Over 500 families utilize Paul Bunyan Early Childhood Center each school year along with housing approximately 75 staff. This is a substantial number of affected individuals for the proposed $80,000 savings.  
 
The loss of the Paul Bunyan Center would be a devastating blow to this community. It houses the only community education center for families with young children in this area. The proposition to decentralize these resources would lead to developmentally inappropriate and potentially unsafe conditions for these young learners. By closing the Paul Bunyan Center, a community of early childhood educators and families would be broken apart, permanently losing access to critical shared resources as well as opportunities for collaboration and support. Finally, the shuttering of the Paul Bunyan Center will likely drive families away from the district, causing further and lasting negative impacts to annual district revenue.   
 
We sign this petition asking you to consider the devastating impacts that the closing of the Paul Bunyan Early Childhood Center will have on families with young children in this community, in return for optimistically marginal annual savings.  
  
Ruth Baker  
Co-Chair of the Parent Advisory Committee to ECFE/ESR