Preschoolers may learn ABCs of budget cuts the hard way

A look of apprehension falls over Elizabeth Hernandez’s face when she glances over at her daughter Daniela, a 3-year-old who casually scales the lone play structure in the Bernal Preschool’s diminutive outside activity area.

“She seems bored,” said Hernandez, a Bernal Heights resident whose daughter attended the neighborhood preschool for six months. “There just isn’t that much for her to do when she goes outside to play.”

Daniela is one of 24 children in the preschool who cram into the bottom floor of the Paul Revere Elementary School Annex at 610 Tompkins St. An area of roughly 750 square feet — featuring a waterlogged sandbox, two swathes of blacktop and a dilapidated storage shed — is the children’s source of outdoor entertainment.

The preschool was located in the Bernal Heights Branch Library for the last 30 years, but was forced from that site in June because of renovations to the aging structure.

After unsuccessfully fighting city officials over the eviction, the preschool’s backers pushed for the construction of a one-story building — projected to cost $2 million — at the neighboring Bernal Heights Playground.

Advocates helped secure a $500,000 commitment from the Board of Supervisors, but that revenue stream was nearly emptied Feb. 7 when Mayor Gavin Newsom slashed $425,000 from the set-aside as part of an effort to balance The City’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“To take that money away from us is so disrespectfulto this community,” said Mauricio Vela, co-chair of Save the Bernal Preschool Campaign. “Most of these children are low-income and minorities, and I think it shows a clear prioritization by the mayor that he doesn’t care about them.”

Mayor’s Office spokesman Nathan Ballard cited improper planning as the reason funding was cut.

“This project is simply not ready to be funded,” Ballard said. “Its feasibility study is incomplete and regrettably we just can’t afford to pay for this project at this time.”

The Save the Bernal Preschool Campaign is seeking out local lawmakers to put pressure on Newsom to retract his decision before the city budget is finalized in July.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Carole Migden voiced her support for the plan at a rally held at the preschool.

“We’re very averse to see-saw funding for these projects,” Migden said.

If the funding for a new building is not secured, the preschool will be forced to remain at the elementary school annex.

wreisman@examiner.com

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