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Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Cuts Nearly 100 Early Education Jobs

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A classroom sits empty at Kent Middle School on April 1, 2020 in Kentfield, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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If this were a normal year, Jessica Gutierrez would sign up her 4-year-old and 19-month-old sons in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s child care programs. Instead the boys are at home and the family hired a nanny part-time to help out.

“Finding that your child care situation has changed, it just puts a whole new hiccup,” Gutierrez said. “My husband and I are very invested in our careers. We love what we do, but we also love our kids.”

Last year, her sons were two of about 1,000 students in the district’s infant and toddler, preschool or child care programs, which have all gone virtual since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, enrollment is down to about 200 as parents have opted out of distance learning for their littlest kids and the steep drop in enrollment means dozens of educators are losing their jobs.

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“When they made that decision, I kind of felt like, so what about preschool?” says teaching assistant Monica Razon McMillan. “What about the little ones? Because the little ones are going to funnel into your schools.”

The district says it’s not ending the infant and toddler, preschool or child care programs.

But Early Learning Director Susan Samarge-Powell said without tuition from parents, state funding -- mostly from low-income families -- isn’t enough to sustain the program as it existed before. This summer, the district’s board voted to lay off about 34 teachers and 60 support staff.

“We can't be an additional fiscal burden on a district that's already trying to make sure that they are being fiscally sound because they have their own burdens to handle,” Samarge-Powell said.

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