|By Chris Maza|
LONGMEADOW – While not in favor of funding a free full day kindergarten, the School Committee is aiming to start offering a fee-based full day program for any interested families.
Members of the committee unanimously opposed a recommendation from a kindergarten subcommittee that has been conducting research within the community as well as in other communities in the Commonwealth.
The two School Committee members on the kindergarten committee, Kimberly King and Janet Robinson, were opposed to the recommendation, as was Superintendent Marie Doyle.
Currently, full day kindergarten is available on a limited basis, with students chosen randomly through a lottery format.
School Committee Chair Michael Clark stressed the committee’s decision did not represent a lack of support of the idea of full day kindergarten, but came down to economics and keeping other grade levels and programs in mind.
“The School Committee felt given the data we have received for fiscal year 2015 (FY15), it was not financially prudent to add $450,000 to the budget,” he said. “A $450,000 increase impacts other grades as well and as a committee, our goal is always to make the right decision for the largest number of people.”
Among the other increases expected in the FY15 budget is an $850,000 bump in salaries due to a 2 percent raise negotiated into the teachers’ contracts, step increases, and incentives for continuing education.
At a Nov. 20 public forum, Doyle listed recently implemented support mechanisms put in place to increase literacy and math proficiency and programs at the high school as those that could be affected by the institution of free full day kindergarten.
Clark went on to say that the committee members “still feel strongly” about full day kindergarten.
“It remains a priority for us,” he said. “We cannot deny the education benefits offered by full day kindergarten.”
With that in mind, the School Committee directed the kindergarten committee to conduct a pre-enrollment study to give an idea as to how many families would be interested in enrolling to a fee-based program.
Clark said he believed the low number of families interested in full day kindergarten in the past was directly related to the timing of the lottery.
“The biggest challenge for people is that they have to commit to Montessori or some other program and put deposits town in advance of the lottery,” he said. “Many don’t want to risk it.”
With larger enrollment in full day kindergarten, the fees associated with the program would most likely decrease, Clark added. Currently offered at $4,100 per year with the lottery, he said, full day kindergarten with open enrollment could cost approximately $3,000, according to projections based on “very conservative estimates” from Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Thomas Mazza, Clark said. Those projections are far from guarantees.
“It’s really too early to put a real number on it, and it really depends on the amount of interest,” he said.
The results of a survey conducted by the kindergarten committee earlier this year stated more than 60 percent of approximately 300 respondents strongly supported a change to a full day program, but more than 50 percent of the survey participants were opposed to paying $2,500 in order to place their children in full day kindergarten.
A public forum regarding full day kindergarten will take place on Jan. 8, 2014, at 7 p.m. at Longmeadow High School.
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