Out-of-work parents pull kids from preschool

March 4, 2009 5:39:40 PM PST
The nation's economic turmoil has hit major banks, investment firms, retailers and homeowners. Now it is about to target toddlers as its next victims.

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Footprints Preschool has been operating in Milpitas since 2000. Licensed for 70 children, it used to have a waiting list, but two of the four classrooms now sit vacant for lack of children. Many of the parents work or worked in the technology sector in Fremont, Milpitas and San Jose.

Now Footprints has been served with a three-day notice to pay back rent and assessments or else face eviction. The school's owner, Daisy Hsieh, says enrollment has dropped by more than half as parents lose their jobs as employers trim their payroll. The notice indicates Footprints owes over $77,000 from December through February.

"We were not prepared for this because I still have six more years to go on the lease, so I didn't plan to do anything, leave or anything else, so I turned to the landlord for help, but it's not working out," Hsieh said.

Hsieh says she has tried to negotiate partial rent payments with the property managers without success. The landlord's attorney, Phillip Vermont, told ABC7 that he would welcome a proposal from Hsieh to avoid foreclosure. The property owner would like to keep tenants, especially when children are involved.

Reshma Cheriyachanassery, an engineer whose three-year-old son Navneeth has attended Footprints for a year, praises the school as the best in the area. She does not know what will happen if the preschool shuts down on Friday. She worries about the psychological impact on her son if he suddenly loses his teachers and classmates.

"Getting into a new environment and new teachers and new school is pretty tough on him," Cheriyachanassery said.

Teacher Anna Camacho, hired when the preschool opened nine years ago, says she will be as much a victim as the children since she will lose a job she loves. She led her class of toddlers in song today, trying to shield them from any indication that something is wrong.

The state's Department of Social Services, which oversees child care and preschool facilities, says the school has no past complaints on record.

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