Kindergarten Program Hits Parents With 63-Percent Tuition Hike

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by Mike Burkett

roundup staff reporter

The Payson Unified School District has upped the tuition for its all-day kindergarten program by 63 percent over last year and at least one parent is hopping mad over the issue, calling the increase "a financial fast one."

According to the district's financial manager, Bobbette Sylvester, the hike was necessary because "our expenses were exceeding the revenue of both the grant and the tuition monies. Therefore, we had to increase the tuition to make costs."

But John Wisner, whose son is one of 66 children enrolled in the all-day kindergarten program, is disturbed about monthly increase from $60 to $95.

"Why a 63-percent increase in one year?" he asks. "If it had been a 15-percent increase, I wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. But this makes you wonder if the tuition will be increased 63 percent every year."

The name of the 9-month program at the center of this debate is something of a misnomer; it is actually a two-hour daily extension of the district's normal kindergarten classes, less school breaks and teachers' afternoon in-service days. With the new tuition fee in effect, families will pay $855 per student per school year, which is up $315 from last year.

Sylvester says that the side-by-side all-day kindergarten program analysis she prepared for the new school year "shows that we had a $7,142 loss in that fund last year, because we weren't collecting enough fees. Therefore, the fees should have been increased last year, and they weren't.

"By increasing them this year, our reserve is going to be $3,670 so the net change between a $7,142 loss and a $3,670 contingency is $10,812. So it's not a contingency of $10,812; people need to understand that."

That 3-percent contingency is part of a reserve for "uncollected fees, other costs," and offsets for "next year increases." According to Sylvester, those "other costs" would include any unforseeable expenses such as in increase in the costs of cafeteria snacks or other supplies.

Roy Sandoval, principal of Payson Elementary School, is quite familiar with the expenses of running his school's portion of the all-day kindergarten program, and says the tuition hike makes perfect sense to him.

"Let me tell you, no one's making money off of this one," Sandoval said of the program. "It's barely skating by ... As far as I can see, there is only one alternative to this tuition increase and that's not having a program at all."

Still, Wisner remains concerned about the program's increasing cost to parents, and the fact that there are no scholarship programs available to help them out.

"The all-day kindergarten program is already out of the financial reach of many local families right now," he says. "Is it the district's goal to make this program available only to the children of the rich?"

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