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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 15, 2009

School board mulls full-day kindergarten

By Jo E. Prout

VOORHEESVILLE — The school board Monday tabled its decision on studying a full-day kindergarten program until its next meeting, after school board members disagreed on how to approach upcoming shortfalls in the budget.

The board had planned to vote on whether or not to delay indefinitely a study of the effects of full-day kindergarten in the district. Voorheesville currently offers a half-day program.

“I think it is totally ludicrous that we would walk away” from the work that has already been done, said board member Timothy Blow. “This is the year,” he said. “This is the year we can afford, I believe, to do this study.”

Blow said that the board should “not bow to two or three stay-at-home moms…who write good letters.”  He said that the district should “evaluate the program. Period.”

There are 35 school districts out of 678 in the state that do not offer full-day kindergarten.

“I’m not willing to bet that this isn’t good for our kids,” Blow said.

Money is available to study the feasibility of adding a full-day curriculum, said interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello. If a district is offered, and accepts, the money for the study, it must implement the full-day kindergarten program by 2010, he said.

“You do not have to take the money if selected,” he said.

Board member Kevin Kroencke noted that a portion of available money is also for the study of adding a pre-kindergarten program. Statewide, there has been discussion of requiring school districts to provide pre-kindergarten programs. Currently, neither kindergarten nor pre-kindergarten is mandatory.

Blow said that the district should do the study, regardless of its final decision.

Special education teacher Donna Fitzgerald, who is also a College of Saint Rose education administration intern with the district, prepared a preliminary report for the board about adding the full-day curriculum.

Board members referred to Fitzgerald’s initial information as a “large bibliography.”

“I want someone to tell me, in 10 words or less, what this means,” Blow said.

Board member Cheryl Dozier said that information about the proposed new kindergarten curriculum was important.

“What are you doing with them?” she asked, indicating more explanation was needed of additional curriculum.

Saving program

The board discussed the kindergarten program after hearing Colucciello’s report, which included projections for future budgets.

After looking at the governor’s proposed budget figures, he said, “We’re digging in early on with this board.’

Colucciello estimated that between $600,000 and $1 million would be lost from future budgets.

“You can’t take $1 million out of a $21-million budget and not affect” a program, he said. Colucciello said that he still does not know about staff retiring or leaving the district, but that their exits would affect budget cuts.

“We’re trying to preserve all the programs that we can, but, realistically, that can’t happen,” he said. “We’re trying to save program and people.”

Colucciello said that the district may have to eliminate between 10 and 12 jobs. Moving to full-day kindergarten could save one or two positions, he said.

Long-time board member C. James Coffin, the current vice president, was concerned about the fiscal effects of a larger kindergarten program on the district.

“To consider any kind of add-on program right now…is a little crazy,” he said. “Reducing budget by $1 million, or 5 percent…This is just the first year of this. We’re looking at a real impact on program.”

“Philosophically,” Coffin continued, “I’m not convinced that a move from half-day to full-day kindergarten makes that much difference in a district like this,” he said, referring to the district’s high test scores and economic levels.

Now, Coffin said, the district should be “protecting what we’ve got.”

School board President David Gibson said that getting the opinions of parents in the community is “critically important,” but he said that the probability of starting a full-day program next year is low.

“I don’t know if it’s the right thing to spend our time on now or not,” Gibson said.

Coffin cited looming fiscal difficulties, but said, “I’m open to changing my mind.”

Blow said that the district cannot make a decision without information.

“We don’t want to give people false hope,” said board member Lisa Henkel. She said that the district could look at its current kindergarten program in the meantime, and add and implement curriculum ideas from the elementary school, giving the district time to think about the move.

At its next meeting, Fitzgerald will give the school board a description of the process by which the district would survey the community and present its findings to the public and the board.

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