Next year’s tuition-based all-day kindergarten has parents and school officials worried that children whose parents can afford the program will later outpace those students left in half-day kindergarten.
Former first-grade teacher and mother of a kindergartner Lani Hall said an academic gulf separated those students who entered first-grade from full day, versus the under-three-hour half-day, kindergarten.
She will enter her child in full-day kindergarten at any cost.
“If we have to sell a horse, whatever, we’ll get her in there,” Hall told the school board Monday night. However, she recommended that the district offer either every student or no student all-day kindergarten to avoid creating a group of elite students.
“Certainly, I don’t disagree with you that it creates the potential for some disparity,” said Superintendent Casey O’Brien.
The state eliminated funding for all-day kindergarten next year because of its budget crisis, leaving local educators and parents with myriad issues.
On a broader scale, the state is increasing kindergarten academic standards although it will not provide funding for an all-day program.
Locally, parents worry about transporting their children to the opt-in all-day program and educators must scramble to provide the half-day children with a comparable education.
“I do feel this is a huge step backwards in both our district and the state,” said board member Barbara Underwood.
Parents can enroll students in the program for $185 per month for 10 months. Currently, the district has slightly more than one section of 20 students signed up, roughly equal among all three elementary schools.
O’Brien said he still doesn’t know which school will host the program, if limited to just one section. Remaining variables include next week’s statewide sales tax vote. If it fails, the district could close Frontier Elementary School.
And, O’Brien said he won’t know exactly how many kindergartners enroll in the all-day program until the first day of school.
“It’s not a perfect science,” he said. “What we will try to do is meet the needs of our parents.”
Issues like scheduling remain, along with deciding which activities half-day kindergartners will enjoy — like computers, library, or physical education.
Julia Randall Elementary Principal Rob Varner said he wants to see library and computer time included for the half-day students. Music and physical education, however, are “debatable.”
“We’ve got to see what we can do to equalize the half-day kids with the full-day kids,” he said.
The elementary principals and O’Brien said they would discuss the issues with kindergarten teachers.
One woman asked if decisions would involve parents.
O’Brien said that while some issues only teachers and principals could decide, the district could also include parents.
Parent Amy Ough, who lives one hour outside of town, said she would have to pull her child from the program if the district doesn’t provide transportation.
If, for example, the district ultimately offers one all-day section at Payson Elementary School, a child that would normally attend Frontier Elementary School would need his own transportation. The district can’t logistically or financially bus children from all over Rim Country to one elementary school, district officials said.
Ough said many other parents face that quandary, and she wondered what the district would do if a large number of parents pulled their children from the program at the last minute.
“Make your decision like it’s going to go your way,” board member Richard Meyer told her. “It’s not your problem.”
He added, “we’ll fight that battle when we get there.”