FALMOUTH — Besides struggling with the soft economy, some private preschool and day-care center owners say new public school services are threatening their businesses.

The businesses are feeling the pressure from an all-day kindergarten program that began this fall, boasting the largest kindergarten enrollment in town history, and a student/staff-only preschool program available at the new elementary school.

“Enrollment is up, but that’s because we’ve restructured our program,” said John Bagshaw, who owns and runs Little Hands Daycare, with two locations on Gray and Leighton roads.

Bagshaw said that until this year, the preschool offered a specialized day-care program for Falmouth kindergartners, aligning with the public school schedule.

However, last year, the public school began offering a “Play and Learn” program so kindergartners could stay at school all day. Little Hands adjusted its programs, offering more preschool than kindergarten slots.

This year, with the school offering all-day kindergarten, and Little Hands has switched to offering only preschool on Gray Road. Bagshaw is worried that the preschool program the public school is offering only to its staff and students will be expanded again in the future.

“All along, (the elementary school principal) has said they won’t compete with us,” Bagshaw said. “The thing I worry about, is I’m a taxpayer in Falmouth and I’m paying, I’m funding my competition.”

The public school’s day-care program is paid for by the parents who use the program, not by taxpayer funds, but Bagshaw said the day care has the luxury of being in a building where heat and maintenance is paid for by taxpayers.

Bagshaw said the constant changes in the school system force him to keep changing his business.

Lisa Lalumiere, who owns Little Red Caboose on Bucknam Road, said she initially thought the public school’s programs would be an issue. But she has not found that the case.

“We’re very strong right now,” Lalumiere said.

She said she is still a little concerned that the public school might start offering preschool to the general public, but for the time being, her business is doing very well.

“I think my biggest concern is that it’s really hard to think you have to compete with the town when you’re paying taxes,” she said.

Ann Parkhurst of Stepping Stones Country Day School, on Foreside Road, blamed the bad economy for her business’ struggles.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” she said.

Parkhurst said she bought Stepping Stones 25 years ago and has never seen enrollment so low. She has only 14 children this year. Typically, she said, she has between 30 and 40.

“Nursery school is a luxury,” she said, adding that people are cutting back, teaching children themselves, or doing co-op-style nursery schools where parents take turns working with the children.

Parkhurst laid off two teachers recently, cut back the number of hours and days the school is open, and went back to teaching at the school herself.

She said she doesn’t think the new programs at Falmouth Elementary School have really affected her, but if the school were to open a preschool that would be available to all public school children, that would really hurt her business.

Diane Morse, of Pine Grove School on Foreside Road, said enrollment is not full, but is up over last year.

Pine Grove offers private kindergarten and preschool to students. Morse said she does not think there’s a correlation between the public school’s recent changes and Pine Grove’s enrollment.

“Once we think we have a trend, something happens to change it,” she said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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