Parents mobilize for Glencliff JCC
Officials say low membership, deficits forced closing
by Tamara Stokes
Parents are asking the leaders and board members of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Dallas to keep the preschool portion of the Glencliff campus open.
During a closed door session Feb. 11, the JCC board decided to close the campus.
Some 60 concerned parents met Sunday morning to discuss the closing, and even more parents were expected to attend a Tuesday night parent/leadership information meeting to keep the Glencliff campus preschool open.
There were two factors at play in the board's decision to close the campus, said JCC president Stuart Prescott. The campus had a deficit and was losing membership, he said.
"Let me be clear that the center itself is not solely responsible for the decision. Our Jewish mission was not being met," Prescott said. "The membership for Glencliff dropped significantly. We just weren't successful in attracting enough support from the Plano community for the center."
A Feb. 13 JCC media advisory said the closing will take place in two stages. The health and fitness center will close March 31, 2003. Early childhood programs, child care and summer camps will run as scheduled through Aug. 31, 2003 before the building is closed permanently.
Membership at the facility is 225 family units, considerably lower than the projected 600 to 700, according to Jay Jacobs, JCC executive vice president.
Jacobs and Prescott said preschoolers will be guaranteed placement at the Aaron Family JCC in Northhaven if registration has been completed.
That's not good enough for Glencliff parents.
"The preschool has an important presence in the northern community and has been self-sustaining. We need to separate the fitness issues from the preschool. This is a decisive issue," said Eddy Trink, an informal leader speaking on behalf of parents.
"We have a commitment from the JCC leadership to allow parents to propose a plan to keep the preschool open. They [JCC leadership] will hopefully provide continued financial support [if given a viable business model]."
Trink said it is unfair to expect parents to take their children to the Northhaven facility.
"We want to keep our kehillah together. Most people who use the preschool live north," he said. "The extra time during rush hours, even with carpooling, is an incredible burden and an unrealistic expectation for parents to trek from LBJ Freeway to Central to the Northhaven facility."
Trink said parents were told Glencliff was subsidized for two years at $140,000 a year from a special Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas fund. According to accounting information Trink received, it would take $390,000 to keep both the preschool and the fitness center. The center has lost a quarter of a million dollars for two consecutive years.
"This is a very sad predicament," said Rivkie Block, whose 2-year-old son Shmuli attends the Glencliff JCC preschool. "The Glencliff campus has provided a warm and haimish environment for the kids with caring teachers, which is what parents want for their children. Unfortunately, the rest of what the JCC has to offer wasn't quite as popular."
All Glencliff JCC members will have the option to continue their membership with a universal pass to the Aaron Family JCC.
In a Feb. 14 letter that went to home with preschool children, Prescott and Jacobs told parents, "We always hoped for a greater facility that would bring the Jewish community together and enjoy many of the things we offered at the Aaron JCC. We had great confidence this part of our community would finally be reached, as they had not been reached before and that they would accept this Center as their own ... We failed in our many attempts to increase awareness, membership and interest in our programs. The result has been substantial financial losses during the past two years ... We have no plans to reopen a new JCC in the Plano community."
Trink said some parents didn't receive the letters, which may have caused additional communication problems. He believes if parents had known about the dismal financial performance of the center, through an official meeting called by JCC leadership, the closing could have been avoided. Trink said he was aware that on occasion, the JCC asked Glencliff members to complete survey forms indication satisfaction and service preferences.
Trink is still hopeful that three teams of parents who are working on alternative funding, new retail locations and a solid business plan will succeed in keeping the doors of the Glencliff JCC preschool open.
JCC leaders, Jacobs, and other facility representatives, Trink said, are supposed to provide "detailed financial records for our review, other than what is available on the Web site."
His wife, Debbie, said that even though she was a education lay leader at the Plano facility and frequent volunteer for literacy and the Parent-Teacher Organization, she was not involved in the crisis discussions of six months or even a year ago to come up with a solution.
Prescott said the transition in budgetary dollars from Glencliff to the Aaron Family JCC will ensure "the high level of quality services the community is accustomed to."
Prescott said every effort will be made to retain as many employees of the Glencliff campus as possible.
"The JCC is terrific about bringing together Jews from all branches of Judaism to form a community where it doesn't at all matter whether you are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or unaffiliated. Everyone connects, everyone has a good time and that's what is most important," he said.
"I believe there is a need for a JCC here in the northern part of the Metroplex and while I'm not sure why it hasn't succeeded, I think that if this goes through, we will feel a great loss."
Deb Silverthorn, DJW freelancer, contributed to this article.
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Friday, February 21, 2003