A surge in kindergarten enrollment has prompted some Payson Unified School District board members to question the policy that parents may enroll four-year-olds in August, so long as they’ll turn five by Jan. 1.
Board president Barbara Underwood questioned whether the district should continue to enroll four-year-olds, given the increasingly crowded conditions at Payson Elementary School.
Under Arizona law, children don’t have to enroll in school until they’re six, whether it’s home schooling, a charter school, private school, an online school or public school.
However, the law allows districts to accept in the fall a four-year-old who will turn five by Jan. 1. The state pays for half-day classes, after doing away with all-day kindergarten to save money several years ago. However, if a student needs to repeat kindergarten, the district gets no funding for the repeated year.
“If they are retained the following year, you cannot receive ADM, but you may charge tuition,” said Kathie Manning, business manager for the district at the board meeting.
Underwood said she’s worried about the overcrowding at PES.
Board member Rory Huff echoed her concerns, “Is there a reason to have four-year-olds in the school? Our schools are crowded; do we need the extra four or five bodies?” he said.
Manning said the increase in students does not affect the maintenance and operations budget, which is mostly state funded. The district pays for all-day kindergarten with federal Title I funds.
“The impact to our Title I grant is approximately $172,000,” she wrote in an email.
However, with PES bursting at the seams now that the district has sold Frontier, the district is struggling with providing classroom space for the all-day kindergarten classes.
PES Principal Asa Hall confirmed during the meeting that he has placed ads for new teachers to cover the demand.
Lisa Evans, head of special services, said that in the districts she has worked at previously, four-year-olds who wish to start kindergarten go through a battery of tests.
She said the screening process ensures the four-year-olds are ready for school. “Fortunately the children I worked with were ready to go to school … they had the basic cognitive and social skills.”
The board decided to leave the policy as it reads.