Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District offices (File photo)

Nearly three dozen Child Development teachers in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will be laid off prior to next school year.

SMMUSD’s board of education approved the decision Thursday evening when it voted on a resolution calling for 34 full-time employees to be cut from their CDS positions effective June 30; however, the board was adamant that the district does intend to continue offering Child Development preschool and school-age programs again in the future when it has the capacity to do so safely.

Susan Samarge-Powell, SMMUSD’s director of Child Development Services, kicked off the emotional discussion last week when she said, “Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Child Development Services was in a fiscally sound position with a projected year-end balance of approximately $1.2 million.”

In October, CDS staff came to the board for a presentation that outlined how the department intended to offer more programs that could be utilized by all of SMMUSD’s families. But Covid-19 hit America and forced CDS to close all of its physical sites and programs, which were utilized by more than 1,000 students this year, according to Samarge-Powell.

“We also followed the governor’s recommendations and made the determination to stop collecting family fees,” Samarge-Powell said while she detailed how CDS has continued to pay all of its staff despite losing its revenue stream and state funding. “In doing so we have now depleted our fund balance and are unable to continue this practice… and with there being no certainty for when we will be able to have our students back in our programs and on sites again, we have no choice but to recommend this layoff action.”

The board and SMMUSD staff would engage in a “powerful discussion,” Board President Jon Kean said Friday, after the decision.

“We heard from Dr. Samarge-Powell who, with her voice choked with emotion, explained why this action was necessary. We also heard from community members who praised the CDS programs, our talented staff, and the board for its sensitivity to the impacts of this action,” Kean said. “We adopted this resolution for one reason only (and that’s) the impacts of the financial devastation caused by Covid-19. Board Member Leon-Vasquez insisted, and the board agreed, to add a sentence to the resolution insisting that resuming these programs is a board priority, because the support and need for early education as an issue of social justice has never been more urgent and we as a board will not fail in providing for our students and families.”

The three main criteria for opening the district’s preschool services relate to the safety of students, safety of staff and quality of instruction, Kean added. “Can we bring our students and teachers back to the classroom and provide the quality of program our families have grown to expect? We believe we can. But the devil, as always, is in the details.”

“Our intent is not to close,” Samarge-Powell said Thursday prior to the conclusion of the meeting. “Rather, we are doing this so that we have the flexibility for how and when we bring our staff back to work… it would have been fiscally inappropriate to retain everyone while at home. However, we believe this is a temporary situation, so we may bring staff back as our needs grow.”