Bexley school board hears report on full-day kindergarten

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A group of Bexley educators and parents is asking for a full day to teach the district’s kindergartners, while the school board points out that it will take an effort to educate residents about the necessity of the added expense.

The committee that launched its study on all-day kindergarten programs in May presented its findings to the board Dec. 17, with voluminous materials showing the academic and social benefits as well as the financial advantages over a half-day program.

Those advantages would come with a price tag of around $250,000 in the first year, including $214,000 for three teachers.

But the parents want it and the kids need it,  according to Maryland Avenue Elementary Principal Jon Hood.

Ninety-six percent of the parents of kindergarten-age children in the district are in favor of a full-day program rather than the half-day now available, Hood said.

The principal added that almost 30 percent of the children failed to meet early literacy standards.

Maryland parent Marlee Snowden noted studies that show test scores in reading, spelling and handwriting are higher for children in full-day kindergarten programs, and that their math and reading scores remain higher through eighth grade.

In addition, with teachers spending more time with the children, special education referrals are more accurate and less frequent, the committee discovered, and fewer children repeat grades.

This saves a district money, Snowden noted. A study of Philadelphia schools showed that nearly 20 percent of the first year’s costs for full-day kindergarten were offset by the decreased need for academic intervention.

There are social and emotional benefits, as well, Snowden said, with higher conduct marks and better attendance in the less stressful environment of a full-day schedule.

Hood explained that the teachers don’t want to cram more into the heads of kindergartners, but instead want more time to instruct.

"We don’t want more nourishment. We want a bigger cup," Hood said.

In fact, a full-day schedule would more than double the amount of instruction time, from 165 to 400 minutes a day, stated Amy Dunn, a kindergarten teacher at Cassingham Elementary and the mother of a child who will be kindergarten-age next year.

This would give the children another hour to work on math and an additional 20 minutes for the teacher to read to students. They would even be able to learn Spanish, Duun said.

"Kindergarten teachers have twice as many children as other elementary teachers, but half as much time to get to know them," Dunn said.

Kindergartners are expected to meet 148 academic indicators, only slightly less  than 192 for first-graders.

That means kindergartners are required to learn three-quarters of what first-graders are taught, in half the time, Dunn pointed out.

Counting the costs

Amy O’Neil reported that it would cost $37,000 to set up the classrooms at Cassingham and Montrose, a one-time cost. Maryland already has a room equipped to handle a full-day program.

This is in addition to the $214,000 in salaries and benefits for three teachers with at least four years’ experience and a master’s degree, O’Neil said.

That would represent 0.9 percent of the district’s total budget, Snowden said, a figure most of those surveyed thought was a bargain.

Nationwide, 60 percent of kindergarten-age children attend a full-day program, and 70 percent of Ohio districts offer a full-day option.

Bexley "is a little bit behind the times on this," Snowden said.

Kindergarten is not compulsory in Ohio, but the Department of Education has recommended that it be made mandatory by 2015.

Of the Ohio districts with a full-day program, 326 charge parents for kindergarten, and the others are funded by the state.

In central Ohio, Worthington and Grandview schools charge $210 and $275 a week, respectively, and waive fees for low-income residents.

The committee also presented letters of support from a broad range of the community, including residents who do have kindergarten-age children or children enrolled in the district.

Some said that they have enrolled their children at Columbus Montessori School or other programs because they did offer full-day kindergarten.

Hood conceded that there are some parents who want to keep their children at home longer, but added that more than half of the kids in this age group attend after-care programs.

He didn’t think offering both full and half-day programs would be an option, since it appeared that few parents were interested in the truncated schedule.

Levy looming

Board members and Superintendent Michael Johnson responded that they will need to weigh the benefits against the district’s overall financial picture, including the need to pass an operating levy in 2010.

Adding another quarter-million dollars to the budget could mean going to the voters earlier, or adding to the millage amount, board member Steve Grossman said.

Snowden said that Treasurer Chris Essman estimated that the expenditure would equal a half-mill of taxation.

It could be up to those asking for additional services to lead the charge on getting the next levy passed, Grossman added.

"Am I looking at the nucleus of the next school levy campaign?" asked Grossman, who led two such efforts before joining the board. "That is something you need to think about seriously."

Johnson said he wanted to see figures on how many parents would be willing to pay for full-day kindergarten.

If the board decides to approve the program, it should be done right, board President Diane Peterson urged. "It should not be glorified day care."

Johnson said that the board would need to make a decision by March to have the program in place for fall, 2008, and asked for a report on the financial impact at that month’s meeting.

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