Bethlehem school district residents may go to the polls a second time in 2007 to vote on a $3.6 million capital construction project to fund a full-day kindergarten program.
The potential fall referendum is needed to capture EXCEL funding available to pay for the cost of six to eight classrooms needed at Eagle Elementary school, being built on Van Dyke Road, across the street from the high school. EXCEL stands for Expanding Our Children’s Education and Learning, and funds for the program are included in the state budget.
Why full-day kindergarten is considered beneficial and how to fund the move from half-day to full-day classes were the main topics discussed at the Wednesday, May 30, meeting of the school board.
Research indicated that full-day kindergarten programs are more advantageous than half-day kindergarten, and there is money to make it happen, said Assistant Superintendent Michael Tebbano.
A study presented by district officials to the school board indicates it would cost $852,000 to staff a full-day kindergarten program in Bethlehem. That figure includes 13 new teachers, five aides and a school nurse. The full report is posted on the district Web site at bcsd.k12.ny.us.
Administrators said school enrollment is expected to increase with a full-day kindergarten program, and state aid would fund the entire amount for the 2008-2009 school year. The expected enrollment boost would come from students currently enrolled in private schools, which traditionally have offered full-day kindergarten programs.
`Obviously, there are additional expenditures, but on the other hand, there are some savings in program services,` said Superintendent Les Loomis, who said the district would realize $226,000 in cost savings in transportation and special education costs.
The school board will be taking up the full-day kindergarten topic at the next two meetings on Wednesday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 20, and is expected to arrive at a decision at the end of June before two new school board candidates, Lisa Allendorph and Diane Giacone Stever, assume their seats on the board.
District officials and PTA leaders said they are already receiving e-mails from parents who are both for and against the move from half-day to full-day kindergarten.
`I am not in support of this for all my children,` said mother of four Jennifer Burns. `I am hearing so much about money, money, money. I want to hear what’s good for the kids.`
Helen Salamone, director of Bethlehem’s Early Learning Center who is retiring this year, said teachers would have more time with their students in a full-day kindergarten setting.
`We don’t have time to do math every day, we don’t have time to do science every day,` said Salamone. `This would allow the time for all these subject matters.`
The current half-day kindergarten structure in the district is a two-and-a-half-hour day. The full-day proposal increases the kindergarten day to six hours and 10 minutes a day, which was another concern for several parents at the meeting.
`Six hours and 10 minutes plus a bus ride is a long day,` said Angie Randles, Slingerlands PTA co-president.
Randles said parents are divided on the issue.
`I always say do what’s best for the majority, but I am not sure we have a majority here,` she said.
School board president Stuart Lyman said it is not cost but what is good for the children that will be the deciding factor in his vote.
`What is it that will make this program successful? To me, it is the program that makes this decision before I ask the taxpayer to pay for it or not,` Lyman said.
District officials pointed to more instructional time, more time to explore topics in depth, and greater focus on a child’s behavioral development as some of the reasons to move to a full-day kindergarten.
`I am a supporter of full-day kindergarten, and I applaud you for your effort to plan for it instead of reacting to it,` said parent Carol Brousseau.
District officials also said they believe the state will soon mandate full-day kindergarten, and funds to pay for it will not be available at another time.
Parent Rebecca Lane said a state mandate for full-day kindergarten is hardly a done deal.
`Is there a bill is the Legislature now?` asked Lane. `It is my understanding the Board of Regents bill died in committee.`
Although the state Board of Regents is calling for a full-day kindergarten program, there is no bill in the Legislature. Gov. Eliot Spitzer has spoken in favor of the proposal, though.
Board member Lynne Lenhardt requested the district provide the board with information at the next meeting showing the pros and cons of half-day kindergarten.
The next meeting of the Bethlehem school board is scheduled for Wednesday, June 6, at 7 p.m. at the district office on Adams Place. The district is inviting the public to attend if they have questions or concerns regarding the proposal.