The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Full-day kindergarten passed by U-46 Board
By Seth Hancock
By a 5-2 vote, the Board of Education in School District U-46 approved the play-based proposal for implementing full-day kindergarten (FDK) district-wide next school year at its meeting on Monday, April 11.
Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward both voted against it. Phil Costello, who ran on the same ticket as Holt and Ward last spring, voted for it but “with severe apprehensions and reservations about it.”
Voted on was over $4 million in expenditures, the largest cost being $2.25 million for 30 additional teachers, included purchasing curriculum materials as well as costs for professional development. The total number of half-day and full-day kindergarten students in the district is expected to be between 2,500 and 2,600.
Holt said he’s been open to the proposal from the start, but in the end he could not vote for it based on the financial climate and the district’s own internal data. He said the proposal ignores the fiscal problems currently faced in the state and “neglects the feelings of a broader community.”
Although the district has used a study to support the merits of FDK, both Holt and Ward pointed out that there are studies on both sides. For Holt, in December he asked for the MAP scores of U-46 second-graders with a breakdown between full- and half-day students but was provided with the Spanish-speaking SUPERA results instead.
Through the four years of data provided, the half-day students scored above the full-day students across the board.
“Before enacting such a huge program, I would have liked to have seen a more comprehensive internal collection of data,” Holt said.
Holt added: “When it comes down to it, there are many studies that are for and against (FDK), but… there is no study or data more valuable than our own internal ones.”
The process for deciding on FDK also was a concern for Holt who noted that the district used elementary boundary changes to push for it and the district held a FDK rally to enroll students into it before FDK was even approved by the board. The original proposal in September said there was a need to build additions at three elementary schools specifically for FDK, but when those additions came up for a vote in February, the administration said they were needed for overcrowding, not just FDK.
Of the 2,050 families already registered for kindergarten next year, 1,983 chose the full-day option. Holt said that enrolling students before it was even voted on was a political move to show support for it.
“I am a sales person by nature, and I know that once you offer anyone an increased service at the same cost, or slightly above what they were paying before, that person will almost always take that option,” Holt said.
Ward said the district “already relies on borrowed money, or bonds” and asked what will happen if “there is no money coming from the state?”
The district’s initial proposal claimed FDK will eventually pay for itself relying mostly on additional funding from the state.
Holt said that he’s heard from parents, students and teachers who would like school libraries to be open later, technology and supplies added to the current classrooms and needed maintenance done, but implementing FDK diverts funds away from those areas harming the larger population.
“In a year of fiscal uncertainty, I think it is wrong to vastly expand operations,” Holt said.
Supporters of FDK have claimed it will make U-46 more competitive and expand the tax-base, but Holt feels the tax-climate in the district and the state is driving people away and does not feel adding FDK will increase the tax-base.
Costello said he understood where Holt was coming from, “but I believe this will improve the taxes and the finances of this district.”
Trusting the district’s proposal that the program will eventually pay itself off through added revenue, Costello said “I am counting on that, and I will hold accountable the administration to the fact that they have presented the long-term costs that will be justified by the increased revenues” but he is “not willing to leverage current classroom resources meaning teachers, defer capital projects, accept more debt for annual operating expenses. In the past the board has approved contracts and programs without budget justification, which I feel is irresponsible.”
Costello added: “I am most concerned about the interest of the taxpayers that provide $500 million of support to this district, and I am hopeful that this decision here tonight represents all taxpayers.”
The district’s original proposal has already come in over the original estimated costs concerning the three building additions. The initial FDK proposal claimed those additions would cost $9.6 million, but the additions, unanimously approved in February, were nearly $4 million higher at $13.5 million.
For Ward, she also opposed FDK because she feels children of that age should spend more time at home. She said: “It breaks my heart that parents would hand that precious time with their 5-year-olds, that is gone in the blink of an eye, to the state.”
The Examiner previously reported that the materials for a “dramatic play center” in the proposal were geared towards girls including kitchen sets, dolls, dress-up clothes and dollhouses while disregarding boys.
“I don’t see any G.I. Joe toys, or bows and arrows, or trucks or motorcycles,” Ward said. “Where are the toys that encourage boys to be boys?”
Ward said she agrees that kindergarten students shouldn’t sit around for six hours a day and feels a play-based curriculum is appropriate, but she asked: “If schooling is ‘play,’ then is it appropriate that the public education system provide it? Is it appropriate that the public education system provide day-care, at least part of the kindergarten day, at taxpayer expense?”