Marana parents are upset the town's "Playroom" program for 3- and 4-year-old children has been recommended for shutdown after the fall session in December.

Parent Kelly Allen told the town council last week she represented a group of parents "concerned over the recent cancellation" by the Marana Parks and Recreation Department of the 10-year-old Playroom, which provides "fun, safe and engaging preschool activities," according to parks and recreation director Tom Ellis.

"It's highly valued, so popular parents camp overnight to get a spot" for their children, Allen said. When registration opens, "sessions are full in 15 minutes." There are 64 total slots.

Revenue from the playroom program is approximately $5,880 for each 18-week session, while the cost is $35,022 per session, according to a May 20 memo from Ellis to Assistant Town Manager Deb Thalasitis.

If cost is an issue, Allen urged the town to "raise the fee" from its current $90 for the children of residents, and $110 for the children of non-residents. More than 90 percent of Playroom children are Marana residents.

"Parents would pay even more," said Allen, who also suggested Marana find grant funding for the Playroom.

Thalasitis told the council parks and recreation staff is "looking at options for maintaining a Playroom presence.

"We're well aware of the concerns, and the popularity of this program," Thalasitis said. "Staff will be coming back with options."

Ellis said the Playroom program began when Marana had few pre-school activities. "Today, opportunities for preschool care are prevalent throughout Marana," he wrote.

As Marana has wrestled with budget difficulties, it gave employees the opportunity to voluntary leave their jobs. Two recreation employees did so. Both Louise Hull and Andres Casillas worked in one of the Playroom program locations. Their part-time wages equaled $34,478. Along with wage savings, lost revenues could be made up through new programming in the identified needs of youth fitness and wellness, non-sport programs and outdoor recreation, Ellis wrote.

Marana's parks and recreation citizens advisory commission had voted to support the recommendation that the Playroom program be discontinued, with staff looking to create "special interest classes designed for the pre-school age group," Ellis concluded.

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