Schultz JCC forced to cut programs, staff

Reeling from a one-two economic punch, the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center is ending two programs that provide after-school care and teen activities for up to 125 area youngsters.

Eleven employees at the Palo Alto center will be laid off on June 30 as a result, leaving a total of 91 full- and part-time paid staff.

The move is part of an effort to slash the JCC's current $4.5 million budget by $1.5 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.

"It's been a very hard year," said Karen Stern, the JCC's executive director. "It's just about the money."

Stern blamed the decision on the overall financial slump and the loss of hundreds of fitness memberships since the JCC was forced to move last summer from its longtime home on Arastradero Road to make way for a Palo Alto middle school.

The JCC's interim home on Middlefield Road has just a small gym and no pool, unlike the fitness, aquatic and recreation center at its old location.

"We've lost a significant amount of revenue because of the loss of the fitness center," Stern said, noting that she is trying to make alternative arrangements for swimmers at local YMCAs.

In the past year, the JCC's membership has dropped by more than 400 families to a current total of less than 800 members. Stern said that even more members could be lost as their memberships come up for renewal.

"It's too soon to find out what the impact will be, but it's assumed to be a significant loss," she said.

This summer, the JCC plans to kick off a multimillion dollar fund-raising campaign to build a permanent home at the Campus for Jewish Life that is planned for the former headquarters of Sun Microsystems on San Antonio Road.

"As sad as this is, we have a very exciting future that we're involved in," Stern said. She hopes to move into a new center in the next four to six years.

In the meantime, however, the programs being discontinued include a long-running after-school day care that transports some 45 children in kindergarten through eighth grade from their schools to the JCC. The other program provides field trips, parties and mitzvah opportunities for an estimated 70 to 80 teens.

"We selected programs that weren't generating revenues to support themselves," Stern said. In addition, JCC administrators felt other youth programs in the area could absorb the youngsters whose programs were being ended.

Enrollment in the center's child-care program shrank to about 45 youngsters from a high of 120 to 125 participants during the height of the dot-com boom about three years ago.

"If the economy hadn't turned and we still had 120 children in the program, we'd continue it, it would be paying for itself," Stern said.

Instead, "as the economy turned, people moved away." In other cases, parents who lost their jobs decided to care for their children at home or found other less expensive alternatives, she said.

"It was the transportation costs that killed us," said Stern. "Between gas prices and insurance costs, it was just an enormous loss."

She noted that the JCC's vans are picking up youngsters at 11 schools stretching from Palo Alto to Mountain View and Los Altos. In some cases, drivers make multiple trips to schools to collect children with different dismissal times.

The program runs from noon to 6 p.m. daily and offers a variety of recreation and cultural activities. "It's a wonderful program," she said.

Workers who will lose their jobs include drivers, teachers and some administrative staff.

"This of course is not an easy decision," said Stern, noting that no changes would be made until the end of the current school year.

She also stressed that other programs, including the JCC's summer camp program, Maccabi youth games and enrichment classes for youngsters, would continue as usual. Also unaffected are services for emigres and for about 500 seniors, and a host of programs for about 180 toddlers and preschoolers.