Several high-level ASU administrators considered a proposal in the fall of 2016 to relocate the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Preschool into a retirement community being developed on campus, according to records released to The State Press in October.
The proposal never came to fruition and the preschool closed seven months later.
Members of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College produced a six-page proposal in December 2016 suggesting that its in-house preschool could be integrated into Mirabella at ASU, a retirement community set to open on campus in Spring 2020, according to Teachers College internal emails obtained through public records requests.
University Provost and Executive Vice President Mark Searle, University Planner Richard Stanley and ASU’s Chief of Staff Jim O’Brien were involved in the proposal consideration, according to email records.
Teachers College Dean Carole Basile also worked directly with Randy Levin, the CEO of University Realty LLC — a nonprofit related to the ASU Foundation, which is developing Mirabella — to create the proposal, according to the emails.
University Realty LLC declined to comment on the proposed integration. ASU also declined to provide any involved employees for an interview to explain the timeline of the proposal.
As recently as Jan. 25, emails show that Searle, Stanley and Basile were scheduling calls “regarding childcare.” Then in late February Basile and Searle began discussing the plan for closing the Preschool and the transition that would follow.
On Feb. 28, the University announced that the Preschool would be closing in July.
ASU said in a statement on Nov. 2 that the two events were not related. Teachers College administrators considered the proposal coincidentally around the same time they also decided to phase the program out, according to the statement.
“In the fall of 2016, members of a university team working on the Mirabella at ASU project began considering a number of different things that might be co-located in the Mirabella building,” part of the statement read. “... Separately, but around the same time, the administration of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College determined through a financial review that the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Preschool was not financially viable, and began working on a plan to phase it out.”
After the announcement of the preschool’s closure was sent to parents on Feb. 28, several parents said they were confused by the lack of communication from the University about the decision.
On April 11, a community meeting was held between parents, Basile, the Preschool’s then-Executive Director Allison Mullady and Senior Vice President of Educational Outreach and Student Services James Rund. Despite pleas from multiple parents to save the preschool, Basile said the decision was final.
Parents were told at the time that the preschool was closing because it wasn’t financially sustainable, and the idea to integrate it into Mirabella was never made public.
Basile and Mullady discussed in November 2016 how the Preschool would need to move into a building with more space in order to house enough kids to hit a “breakeven point,” around 125 kids, according to the emails.
Gwynne Gonzalez, whose child attended the Preschool until its closure, told The State Press in March that she and other parents were left scrambling for solutions to a problem they didn’t know was developing.
“We’re really baffled by the fact that we didn’t know there was a problem," Gonzalez said. "Maybe there’s a fundraising effort, maybe we could reach out to our own departments and do something. Really at the end of the day, the problem: Why weren’t we consulted, or at least made aware that was an issue?”
Gonzalez and several other parents began a phone-calling campaign, drafted letters and reached out to ASU leadership to discuss alternative options for the impending Preschool closure.
Read more: ASU preschool on the verge of closure
Cynthia Mruczek, a former ASU faculty member whose child attended the MLF Preschool, said there would have been “100 percent backing” from parents to help integrate the Preschool with ASU Mirabella if University leadership had made the option available to them.
“(Integrating with Mirabella) should’ve been an opportunity,” Mruczek said. ”It’s one thing to close down a preschool and say ‘this isn’t working’ and be done with it, which I think was a foolish decision anyway. It’s a totally different thing to say ‘the structure of this preschool isn’t working, but there are really strong foundational bricks upon which we can build an amazing project.'”
ASU’s statement said idea to integrate the preschool was discarded because it was too costly.
“It was quickly determined that the costs and the space requirements to support a full scale daycare or preschool operation, with indoor and outdoor space, just was not feasible,” part of the statement read.
Mruczek said after the April community meeting that the parents felt their concerns were not properly resolved, and they were still frustrated over the decision.
“We talked after that last meeting, we felt like the administration of the Teachers College as well as the larger University really didn’t take our concerns seriously,” she said.