Parents are lining up to enroll their children in Payson School District's all-day kindergarten program at Julia Randall Elementary School.
The pilot program is so successful that the Payson School Board is interested in adding a second class to allow more students to participate.
But a proposal to increase tuition and begin charging district employees, who are currently allowed to enroll their children in the program for free, drew fire from parents during Monday's school board meeting.
Julia Randall Elementary School Principal Sue Clark presented a tentative proposal to the board to develop a second all-day kindergarten class at JRE. She suggested the following strategies to make the program pay for itself and operate more efficiently:
- Raise tuition from $50 a month per child to $80-$100 a month.
- Charge district employees, who are currently allowed to enroll their children in the program for free, full tuition.
- Make all children, including those of district employees who are currently given placement preference, subject to a random lottery to choose which children will be allowed to enroll in the program. The two classes will be limited to 22 students each.
- Allow 14 students from each elementary school to participate in the program.
- Create a waiting list.
• Develop a non-payment policy that will allow the school to drop a student if his or her tuition becomes more than 30 days overdue and add the next student on the waiting list from the same school.
But JRE teacher Michael Creighton, who has a child in the program, told the school board that he and other teachers were recruited with promises of free, guaranteed student enrollment in the school's preschool and all-day kindergarten programs.
Those perks, he said, sweetened the wage he was offered, which, on face value, wasn't competitive with other schools around the state.
If those benefits are revoked and teachers are forced to pay for those services, it will be harder for the district to recruit and retain talented teachers, he said. Other teachers also expressed support of Creighton's views.
But parent Joseph Bayless argued for equal treatment and lower tuitions.
"I'm a low-income parent, and I don't mind paying tuition, but $100 is a little steep," he said. "Fifty dollars is OK.
"I feel everyone should be treated the same. I understand teachers don't make a lot of money, but neither do I."
The board asked Clark and PUSD Superintendent Russ Kinzer to develop and submit finalized proposals for a second all-day kindergarten class and similar tuition and enrollment changes for the district's First-Step Preschool role-model program. No other decisions on the issue were made.
Changes to the preschool program would not affect special-needs children who qualify under federal guidelines.
In other business, the school board received a brief update on the district's search for a candidate to replace Kinzer, who is retiring later this year.
School Board President Kristi Ford told the board that the Arizona School Board Association, which is conducting the search for the district, has received nearly 30 applications for the job and reviewed 19.
"If all goes as planned," she said, "we hope to announce the finalists April 26."