The cost of full-day kindergarten versus a half-day program in Three Village has evolved into a discussion not only of program costs – but also one of educational integrity, family finances, and taxpayer burdens.
Throngs of parents – some of them educators themselves – were among hundreds of people who showed up at Tuesday night's standing-room-only Board of Education meeting, with speakers imploring the school board to maintain the program rather than reduce it to a half-day program in the wake of budget negotiations following the .
Single mom Lisa Stickelman, whose son will enter kindergarten in the fall, said her work schedule doesn't allow for her to care for her son in the middle of the day. "It has been an ongoing struggle to pay for services and this unforeseen expense poses a real hardship," she said.
Another parent, Christine Segnini, suggested enrollment would decline if half-day kindergarten were to be implemented as families looked to private school programs for their kids. "You may have a harder time passing the budget as they have less of an interest," she told the board.
Peter Ronzoni, a parent who is a kindergarten teacher in a different school district, said full-day kindergarten "isn't an extra" because of the rigorous expectations to which the students are already held.
"Kindergarten is no longer just ABCs and 123s. Kindergarten is the new first grade, and anyone who doesn’t think so hasn’t been in a kindergarten classroom recently," he said. "... Half-day kindergarten undermines the entire school system."
Claudine Pepe, a local parent who is an elementary school principal in another school district, called the failure of the budget "an issue of conflicting values tied to an anti-educator sentiment." She said maintaining academic quality is an urgent need at all levels, from kindergarten through 12th grade and the college level.
"Competition from around the world has put our nation’s standing in the economic world at risk," she said, "and the jobs of today along with the jobs of tomorrow require citizens with higher levels of education than ever before."
Another resident spoke to the other side of the debate: John Blaikie pointed out rising taxes even though "people are underwater."
"The point is, we can no longer afford the high taxes here. Just try and sell your south-of-25A-house with a $13,000 tax bill in today’s economy," he said. "... All day kindergarten is a nice thing to have. It’s important, but we’re talking about money here, we’re talking about affordability."
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According to administrators, going to a half-day kindergarten model would save the district approximately $650,000.
A half-day kindergarten program would leave teachers with two hours and 50 minutes of class time for each section. At the March 20 school budget meeting, two of the district's principals lobbied to preserve the full-day kindergarten program, saying the move would do the following:
- Threaten teachers' ability to cover every subject and activity typically taught at the kindergarten level, as the district complies with state curriculum mandates (also known as common core standards);
- Decimate teachers' ability to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of the students' various levels of learning abilties;
- Prevent teachers from being able to facilitate deep social and emotional learning alongside the main subject areas;
- Adversely affect teachers' ability to prepare students for first grade;
- Cut music, art, and physical education from the students' daily activities.
The school board has not made any actual cuts to the kindergarten program; it has merely been presented as an option.
"We are all going to endeavor to present a budget that minimizes as much as possible the impact on our educational mission and the children," board president John Diviney said during the meeting.