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JCC MetroWest to end child care in Whippany
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JCC MetroWest to end child care in Whippany

Brody Center ‘victim’ of ‘economic realities,’ says top administrator

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Children work on solar system projects in the Brody Early Childhood Center at the Aidekman campus in Whippany. The center is slated to close in June.
Children work on solar system projects in the Brody Early Childhood Center at the Aidekman campus in Whippany. The center is slated to close in June.

The Brody Early Childhood Center in Whippany will close at the end of the school year, JCC MetroWest announced on Feb. 1.

The decision came on the heels of an 11th-hour recruitment and fund-raising effort undertaken by preschool parents over the last few months.

The school will close June 11, the last day of the current academic year.

JCC MetroWest chief executive officer Alan Feldman called the school an “unfortunate victim of untenable economic realities.”

According to Feldman, the school was running at an annual deficit as high as $110,000 per year, and original projections for 2010-11 were grim, suggesting a deficit that could reach $250,000.

The only class for which direct costs would not exceed revenues for the 2010-11 year was the four-year-old class.

The Brody Center’s closing will not affect operations of the early childhood center at JCC MetroWest’s facility in West Orange.

“This is a sad day for all of us,” said Stephen Seiden, chair of the JCC MetroWest board of trustees, in a statement. “I deeply regret that all the noble efforts to keep the Brody Center open were not enough to mitigate the combined effects of declining enrollment and financial losses in these challenging times.”

In recent months, administrators told parents that if they could reach an enrollment for the 2010-11 year of approximately 60 children, the school could be saved. Parents, led by Sandra Matrick Forman, tried fund-raisers, an open house, word of mouth, and other publicity efforts. By the end of January, they reached a committed enrollment of just 36, with five or six additional children possibly on the way.

Feldman praised the parents’ efforts as “heroic.”

Nevertheless, “with all the additional funds they raised, and everything they did, we still would have been running at a deficit of $81,000 next year,” said Feldman. “No matter what we do — even if we could raise funds, even if we could manage expenses to a bare minimum, even if we could change the structure to make the school more cost efficient — we would still be running a significant five-figure deficit. The financials pretty much said it all,” he said.

“We’re disappointed,” said Meryl Heller of Morris Plains, whose three-year-old, Morgan, has attended the preschool since she was about 18 months old. “My daughter loves her school. She loves her friends. I’ve grown close to the parents. It was a very special place,” she said. She had planned to enroll Shayna, Morgan’s baby sister, in the school this summer.

Enrollment was down this year to 40 children, from a high of over 100 in the early 2000s. The infant room, for babies from six weeks to 18 months, was eliminated in the fall of 2009.

“We’re very proud of what we did. Even though the school will close, the parents built a community together that is unbelievable,” said Heller.

Forman, the parent leader, said in an e-mail, “I feel very sad for the children, the community, and especially for the teachers.”

Some parents feel the center’s fate was sealed in 2007, when the JCC, citing a budget deficit, pulled its athletic facilities out of the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus, which includes the Brody Center, the offices of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, and New Jersey Jewish News. The gym and pool are now operated privately by Gold’s Gym.

“Perception is powerful,” said Amy Fingeret, Brody Center director from 2005 until she resigned in June 2009. Enrollment dropped “because people did not know we’re still here or if we would be here,” she said at the time.

Lee Emdur of Morris Plains, whose children Gavin, four, and Rayna, two, both attend the school, called the closure “a huge loss for Morris County.” He faulted the JCC for not taking appropriate measures to save the facility.

“The program has been neglected for many years, and that’s the real shame of it,” he said. “There were opportunities, going back, to look at the program and identify something was not working and change what they were doing to try to keep it open. The sad part is, they waited until too late to confront the issues at hand.”

In response, Alan Feldman, who took the helm of the JCC on an interim basis in 2008 and on a permanent basis a year later, pointed out that it was never in the interests of the JCC to close the Whippany preschool, either conceptually or from a business perspective, but declined to attempt to explain his predecessors’ motivation. “All institutions have histories and leadership issues that happened in the past. But at the time, people make the best decisions they can. We’re never sure how they will turn out. I can only believe that the leadership of the JCC in the past sought to do what was in the best interests of the school and the agency.”

He added that from June 2009, when they began to address the issues, “We have tried to face this process with empathy for the history, for the teachers, and for the current parent body, to do what we could to take the situation and turn it around.”

The Frances and Herbert Brody Early Childhood Center opened with the inauguration of the Whippany campus in 1992. Several of the 13 teachers soon to lose their jobs have been there since its inception. Among them is Rachel Mizrahi, who shared her sorrow and disbelief.

“It’s a really sad day,” she said. “I felt so good about the school. I loved it. I had so many kids. I can’t believe they let it go. I believe in a Jewish education for the kids. It breaks my heart to see the school close.”

Asked where she will go, she said, with tears in her eyes, “I don’t know.”

Feldman said he will examine teacher contracts with the union and their lawyers to determine the JCC’s obligations. “It was heart-wrenching to meet with those teachers,” he said.

Parents are adamant about staying in Morris County and keeping their children in a Jewish preschool environment. “We are working on an option to keep as many families and teachers together as possible. We have built a very strong and close community, and feel committed to having a full-day option for working parents in Morris County,” said Forman.

Other full-time preschools in Morris County are at the Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph, at Morristown Jewish Center-Beit Yisrael, and at White Meadow Temple in Randolph. Brody parents said they want to stay together as a community and are floating the idea of starting their own preschool. “We have some promising leads, but nothing is set in stone,” said Heller.

Johanna Sohinki, director of early childhood services for JCC MetroWest, said, “The closing of the school affects me on so many levels. As the director, I feel the loss of an important component of our early childhood program. As a teacher, I feel the individual loss of every child. As a community member, I feel the absence of a nurturing Jewish environment.

“It was a painful and difficult decision to make but declining enrollment and financial losses in uncertain economic times forced our hand,” Sohinki said. “I will be always be grateful for the overwhelming recruiting and marketing efforts put forth by our…early childhood families.”

Stephanie Martin, who took the helm of the school following Fingeret’s departure, declined to comment.

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