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Numbers Dwindling - Economy Chews On Local Daycare, Preschool Enrollment
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The struggling economy continues to cause ripples in the water, including that of the kiddie pool as preschools and daycares face dwindling enrollment.

When parents lose jobs or hours, daycare often becomes the first place families look to cut costs, and that seems to be the case for many local providers who are struggling to keep their enrollment numbers up.

One such daycare provider, Linda Rocha, said it’s been tough to make ends meet since her enrollment dropped so drastically.

“At first it was great,” Rocha shared about opening her home-based daycare three years ago. “But then two years ago it started to slow down. Parents started getting laid off and it was hard to keep a full enrollment.”

Licensed for eight full-time children, Rocha is down to four with constantly changing schedules.

“I had one parent go from two days a week to one day a week and then they just stopped showing up,” she said.

Another family enrolled and then the day the child was supposed to start, the husband lost his job.

“It’s hard times and it’s happening over and over. It comes down to parents trying to find a way to not pay for childcare,” Rocha said.

Rocha, who also cares for children paid through the county, said for the first time ever there are 25 daycare providers actively looking for referrals through the provider newsletter issued by Stanislaus County. “I’ve never seen that before,” she said.

And it isn’t just home-based daycares feeling the pinch.

The Learning Tree, an established preschool in Oakdale, has the lowest enrollment they’ve seen in a long time, said Director Jonyce O’Neill.

Licensed for 120, currently there are 104 preschoolers enrolled, said O’Neill.

“This is the first time we don’t have a waiting list,” she said. “Typically, there’s a year and a half waiting list. I have people calling when they’re pregnant to get on the list.”

Unemployment and job relocation were two of the top reasons parents were pulling their children, O’Neill shared.

“At one time the phone was ringing off the hook but since August it’s been silent,” O’Neill said.

And if there aren’t enrolled kids, it affects the bottom line.

“Without kids there isn’t any money,” Rocha said. “Right now it’s costing me money to run my business. I have to keep dipping into my savings to pay the bills. It worries me.”

While O’Neill has been able to hold onto her staff, they have had to make concessions, such as lower hours.

“We are definitely not alone,” O’Neill said. “I’ve heard rumors of preschools in Modesto shutting down because they couldn’t make payroll any longer.”

Rocha agreed, saying, “It’s tight out there but it’s tight for everyone. There are no extras and I’m no exception.”

And while it’s easy to understand why the numbers are dwindling, O’Neill is sad for the children.

“Without preschool, especially with the state standards, children are behind when they reach kindergarten,” O’Neill said.

But even though times are tough, both O’Neill and Rocha are starting to see a slow change in the right direction.

“I have a few students that have returned because their parents’ financial situation has changed,” O’Neill said. “We’re starting to see a trend as things turn around but you know, it’s in God’s hands.”

Rocha said, “Things are getting better. I’m getting more calls now than I did two months ago. I’m going to try and stay positive. There’s always going to be children who need good care.”