REDONDO BEACH — They carried toddlers in their arms, told stories of personal and financial hardship and cried tears of anger and sorrow, but about 150 parents this week failed to persuade the city's school board that the Aladdin child-care centers should remain at the former Fulton Elementary School.
After about 90 minutes of testimony Tuesday night from an anxious crowd that spilled into the hallways, the elementary school trustees declined, without comment, to reverse its decision that requires the centers to move from the school this summer.
The trustees earlier this month had rejected a bid by Aladdin for a seven-year lease at the Fulton school, voting instead to award the lease to Coast Christian School, a private school affiliated with Calvary Church of the Coastlands in Torrance. The trustees said then that the Aladdin offer did not meet minimum bid requirements.
"We have failed to save the children's center in Redondo Beach, and the fight is over," Clara Whiteman, owner of the centers, said Wednesday. "The school district has made its point: They do not want the children in Redondo."
Scores of dejected parents left the school board meeting not knowing what they will do with their children. Some had said they might have to quit their jobs or move to another community where equivalent child care is available. Many said they are apprehensive about switching to another facility because of allegations of child molestation and abuse at several closed preschools in the beach communities.
About 140 children are enrolled at the Aladdin Day Care Center, a profit-making venture, and 56 at the Aladdin Infant-Care Center, a nonprofit organization that accepts infants as young as six weeks.
"I simply have no alternative for my child right now," said Camille Pettigrew of Torrance, who has a 20-month-old daughter in the infant center. "'There is no other facility like it in the South Bay."
Paul Pease of Hermosa Beach, who also has a child in the infant center added: "To me, no one is more important than my child. He is going to get the best, and he has the best right now."
Although Aladdin officials have been unable to find a permanent new home for the centers, Whiteman said she will meet this week with officials from the Manhattan Beach school district to discuss the possibility of temporarily leasing the Center Middle School, which the district is expected to close this summer.
Aladdin already has obtained a provisional license from the State Department of Social Services that allows the centers to operate within 24 hours of moving to a new location, Whiteman said. Without such a license, the centers would be shut down for months while state officials inspected the new location.
"I am not a quitter," said Whiteman, who has operated the day-care center since 1981 and the infant-care center since 1983 at the Fulton school. "We are doing our best to make sure that none of our children are without a home," she said.
Aladdin's current lease expires at the end of June, although Coast Christian has offered to wait until Aug. 1 before moving into the building. Coast Christian, which teaches children from preschool level through high school, currently occupies a former elementary school on Inglewood Avenue and says it needs a second facility because of expanding enrollment.
In rejecting the Aladdin bid earlier this month, the trustees said it did not meet minimum bid requirements because it relied on state credits for a portion of the annual rent payment.
The district specified that it would not accept bids below $130,000. Aladdin offered an $80,000 annual cash payment and an estimated $110,000 credit from the state for the 55 Aladdin children who also attend Redondo schools.
The credit is distributed directly to the district by the state under the state's Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding regulation, which allocates $2,000 to Redondo for each child who attends its schools.
The Coast Christian bid consisted of a $132,000 cash payment and did not include any ADA money. School districts receive no ADA money for children who attend private schools like Coast Christian instead of district schools.
Part of Bid Rejected
Much of the discussion Tuesday night focused on the issue of the ADA money and whether the board acted properly when it refused to consider it as part of the Aladdin bid. Jerold Goldstein, an attorney for Aladdin, argued that the bid was appropriate and urged the board to reconsider its position on the ADA money. As a compromise, he asked the board to reopen the bidding process, set a July 1 deadline and give Aladdin a second chance to offer a cash-only bid. Parents have said they would pay higher fees to keep Aladdin open.
"The real name of the case is the children," Goldstein said. "What is in the best interest of the children?"