Marin supervisors push for extension at Fairfax child care center
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Marin supervisors push for extension at Fairfax child care center

Aug 14, 2023

Two Marin County supervisors said this week they will push to extend a deadline for the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center to vacate school district-owned property.

The Ross Valley School District, which owns the property in Deer Park at which the center operates, terminated the center’s lease effective Thursday. Officials said no action has been taken to institute eviction proceedings.

When the Aug. 31 termination date was set a year ago, it was supposed to be the time by which the school district would have sold the property to the center operators or to another public body — or the date on which the center would move out. Despite efforts, the expected sale or move has not happened.

Supervisors Katie Rice and Dennis Rodoni said Monday they will voice their support for an extension to Dec. 31 at the school district’s board meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting has been moved to Wade Thomas Elementary School at 150 Ross Ave. in San Anselmo to accommodate the expected high turnout.

“We’ll be asking Ross Valley School District for an extension so that the center has time to identify another location where they can provide their services,” said Rice, who represents the Ross Valley. “That is the best path forward.”

Rice and Rodoni spoke before more than 100 people participating on an online call set up Monday by Heidi Tomsky, the center’s director, to discuss the status of the center and the request for an extension.

Tomsky told participants on the call that the center is no longer interested in purchasing the property from the school district after a due diligence study by the Marin County Office of Education found serious structural problems. John Carroll, the county schools superintendent, said last week that he has decided it would not be financially prudent to buy the property and turn it into a county-wide early childhood education center.

“Our dream and our vision has always been to stay and renovate the property,” Tomsky said. “But because the five-month investigation done by Marin County Office of Education has uncovered some serious concerns, we’re now looking for another place. That is why we need extra time.”

Carroll said Tuesday that he has convened a committee of community stakeholders to see if they can find a new home for the center, one of the few subsidized child care centers in Marin. The committee’s first meeting is Wednesday.

“Just because we’re not buying the property, it doesn’t mean we’re not staying involved,” he said. “This is a community-wide problem and we have to work together to solve it.”

Shelley Hamilton, board president of the Ross Valley School District, said the county supervisors’ backing should have come earlier.

“The County of Marin had more than a year to take tangible steps to support FSACC and they did nothing,” Hamilton said in an email Tuesday.

“It is astounding that the County of Marin sat on the sidelines for a year, and, if it is now their intent to join FSACC in a last minute pressure campaign against the district,” she said. “It is disheartening that they have chosen to point the finger at fellow public servants rather than hold FSACC’s leadership accountable for the current state of affairs.”

Officials from the district and the center met with Rice in July 2022 to “discuss how the supervisors could provide direct assistance in this situation,” Hamilton said.

“Supervisor Rice declined to take action, stating that it was not within the county’s purview to get involved,” she said. “RVSD then offered to sell the property to the county under the Naylor Act in June 2023 and they declined.”

Rice has said the county has a special reserve fund put aside that was intended to help either MCOE or the center operators purchase the property. The money, however, was only to be used as a supplement if other loans or purchase offers were secured, she said.

Carroll said he didn’t think the community pressure on the Ross Valley School District was fair.

“It doesn’t seem right,” Carroll said. “All five trustees of the Ross Valley School are being put in an untenable position — and that’s regrettable.”

Rather than evict the center in the spring of 2022 as their lawyer had recommended, school district officials instead acted for the past year to declare the property as surplus so that it could be sold. The attorney had recommended the eviction based on his report that the property was not safe for children and that district board members could be held liable if something bad happened.

Officials met regularly with the center operators to try to work out a sale agreement or other arrangement. When the MCOE said it wanted to explore buying the property, the district worked with the county office to see if that could be arranged.

The center, founded by longtime civic leader Ethel Seiderman, has been at the Deer Park location for about 50 years.

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