A small Moorpark company that won national acclaim for operating a school exclusively for the children of its employees is struggling to keep it open.
City planning officials last month warned Debra and George Tash, co-owners of G.T. Water Products Inc., that they could not operate a school on factory premises without a change in city zoning codes and a city permit.
City officials need to be able to control how many children are on the grounds of factories in case of fires or accidents, Community Development Director Pat Richards said Thursday.
Although G.T. has a state license to run the school and has met county fire codes, the school runs the risk of being closed without a change in zoning to allow schools on industrial sites, Richards said.
"The city just wants regulatory control over it," he said.
The school has been operating on G.T.'s manufacturing site on North Commerce Avenue for nearly three years. To continue, G.T. faces about $2,000 in processing fees and a six-month wait for a permit, Debra Tash said.
G.T. has 30 workers and spends about $30,000 a year to keep the school going. Eleven students, ages 5 to 14, attend school each day. G.T. was planning to add a second teacher in September, when 14 students are expected to be enrolled, Debra Tash said.
"We're a small company. We've been generous; we've been doing the right thing," Debra Tash said. "I totally support the school. The parents pay for nothing."
She said she will fight the city because she believes that its policies will discourage other businesses from establishing on-site schools for workers.
An official with the California Assn. of Private Schools in Westlake said the business is probably the only one in the state that operates a school.
The school was the major reason G.T. was listed in Working Mother magazine two years ago as one of the 60 best companies in the United States to work for, alongside bigger firms such as IBM and AT&T.
Since then, G.T. has gotten calls from many other companies trying to open their own schools, Debra Tash said. But the recognition has put the company, which sells about $3-million worth of toilet plungers, water-powered pumps and drain-cleaning devices each year, in hot water with Moorpark.
Debra Tash said she was surprised that the school had not been warned earlier, in light of the company's high-profile history.
G.T. was probably overlooked during a brief period when the city lacked a code enforcement officer two years ago, Chief Code Enforcement Officer Frank Mancino said.
At least one councilman has sided with the Tashes. Councilman Paul Lawrason said he wants the law changed to give on-site company schools a break.
The City Council a year ago agreed to help out working mothers by permitting day-care centers at industrial sites, but the ordinance does not cover schools such as G.T.'s. Lawrason said he will propose that schools be included in the measure when the council meets Sept. 5.
"These people are getting all kinds of acclamation for what they're doing," Lawrason said. "It's something we need to have more of, not less."