By Sue Botos
While the school board continues to weigh the pros and cons of all-day versus half-day kindergarten, factors such as student selection and readiness, plus tuition, continue to feed into the balance.
During the board’s December committee of the whole session, Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Anderson reported that she introduced the topic of full-day kindergarten at a recent district curriculum advisory committee meeting. She said the discussion produced a list of benefits, such as increased opportunity for interaction among students, more time for enrichment activities and keeping up with neighboring districts, which all offer the option.
But on the negative side, there was concern over the readiness of 5-year-olds for a whole day at school, tuition costs, and the fact that the current half-day program is working well and should remain an option.
“The overriding thought was no all-day, every day (across the board),” she stated.
On the subject of turning to voters for support, she stated, “Every table avoided that comment.” She added that committee members expressed concern over all-day kindergarten as being seen as childcare for working parents inconvenienced by the half-day program.
“It’s not about day care. Let’s take that off the table,” stated Colleen Pallett, one of the parents spearheading the all-day kindergarten movement. “It is a huge concern, but it’s not the main point.”
Pallett added that the proposed tuition of $3,400 may make the program prohibitive to some families. “I implore you to rethink that fee. It will be a major roadblock,” she added, stating that the program could turn into a “haves versus have-nots” competition.
In addition, Pallett said that since the fee may prevent families from registering the program, the true number of those interested won’t be reflected.
Board member Jean Rounds added that the committee seemed to favor a lottery for filling the proposed 50 spaces in two classes.
“I’m not falling on either side of the issue,” Anderson stated. After a parent distributed information to the board outlining all-day programs in other districts, she stated that the option would lengthen the present kindergarten day by 3.5 hours and would include two recesses and lunch.
Moving to the topic of funding, board Finance Committee Chairman Rick Manoloff stated, “We are not sitting on a pile of cash.” During the November finance meeting, he noted that by 2019, the district will be looking at a deficit of $1.7 million. He added that preliminary numbers indicate about $2 million more will be needed for capital improvements. (This will be further discussed at tomorrow’s finance committee session at 5 p.m.)
Placing a levy on the ballot has been broached by the board. But while parents of kindergarten and preschool-age children have expressed overwhelming support for a program update, board President Scott Swartz stated that it may be difficult to get older people, satisfied with the current arrangement, on board. “The world has changed,” he stated.
Treasurer Greg Markus noted that Bay Village, which charges $2,600 for its all- day kindergarten, set aside 1 mill, or $500,000, of its last successful operating levy to fund its program.
Several Cleveland-area districts, including North Olmsted, Lakewood, Beachwood and Orange, offer only all-day kindergarten, but at no charge.
Board member Rick Manoloff added that it would take yearly tuition of $4,630 to entirely cover the program. “No one is doing this,” he stated, adding that with the $3,400 fee, the district would need to subsidize the program with $60,000. This would come at the expense of other offerings, he added.
The one parent speaking out against the all-day proposal stated that it was unnecessary, with the options available at St. Christopher and St. Thomas schools. “If you put it on the ballot, I won’t vote for it,” stated Mary Matthewson, who added that she was a product of Rocky River schools. She noted that it would have been tough for her children to handle the all-day every day routine. “It’s a lot to ask of them. It’s a lot to ask of the taxpayers,” she said, adding that she would like to see funds go to other programs, such as college preparation.
Regardless of the board’s decision, Anderson said she and her staff have “accepted to challenge” and will have a program proposal ready over the summer.