Waitsfield School Board member Todd White told community members and parents that it’s not whether the school goes to full-day kindergarten, it’s when, at the December 20 school board meeting.
Currently Waitsfield Elementary School (WES) offers half-day kindergarten for students with the choice of attending the morning or afternoon session.
At the December meeting, WES Principal Kaiya Korb reviewed budget options with respect to kindergarten and fund balance management. WES carried a $71K fund balance from 2010-2011; she noted that the equalized pupils number is down, resulting in less revenue to the school and also impacting taxes.
The early childhood education committee previously recommended full-time kindergarten for a variety of reasons including capacity to provide a variety and depth of learning experiences in the school day, continuity of experiences and instruction for children and early intervention opportunities.
Community members present expressed opinions on both pros and cons of a full-time kindergarten program. Christine Sullivan noted that the class size would impact the quality of the program. Korb said, “While there isn’t a magic number, 19 students is a high number in the primary grades and has merited additional adult support in the classroom. We are not anticipating numbers this high in the future.”
Korb said that the school received $30,000 from the JOBS bill that provides one-time revenue that will help offset expenses for next year. Board member Todd White reiterated, “The consensus from the board was that going to full time is the right thing to do and the decision to be made is simply when, this year or next.”
Korb said that a longer day would mean additional opportunities for science and exploratory group and project work, as well as a lessening of the rigor/speed in the day experienced in a half-day program.
Board members discussed the fact that not all families have the resources to be able to carefully structure the afternoons for children.
Helen Kellogg inquired as to how to address the budget percent increase spike created if the full fund balance is moved back into the budget. The group discussed the benefit of using one-time revenues this year for the cost of the capital improvement plan.
Board member Eve Frankel recommended waiting on the full-time kindergarten program until there is more community and parental support, as well as to give staff the time to plan for and build the program.
School board member Helen Kellogg spoke to the need to provide full-day coverage for those not able to invest in the private enrichment programs and that the full day will create more breathing room for play and balance in the curricular planning.
White supported the full-day scenario and said that after school can be addressed to meet the needs of a likely larger kindergarten population. He also spoke in support of using the resources to maintain the facility. School board member Rob Williams suggested the board wait a year on full-day kindergarten and moving only half of the fund balance to the capital improvement fund.
Korb cautioned that if the decision was a matter of funding, this year presents an opportunity to move to full-day kindergarten with an impact of a less than 1 percent increase.
Rough estimates show that even with reducing a staff person in the following year, the board may not be able to achieve a budget reduction matching what is in place this year.
Kellogg made a motion to pass a budget of $2,169,090, which includes giving back 50 percent of the fund balance to the town and includes full-day kindergarten, recognizing that the dollar amount may change with the finalization of the WWSU budget. White seconded and the motion was unanimously approved.