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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise January 26, 2012

Full-day K on the way
VCSD board split on kindergarten

VOORHEESVILLE — In a split vote Monday, the school board doubled the length of the kindergarten day.  The full-day program will start next fall.

The seven-member board had considered extending the program before, most recently in 2009, but maintained its half-day structure.  The following year Cindy Monaghan and Kristine Gravino, who ran together on a platform advocating for full-day kindergarten, won seats on the school board.

The state is offering aid to districts that move to a full-day kindergarten program again this year.  Voorheesville estimates that it will get $188,000 in aid, assuming that 70 children enroll.  It will hire another full-time teacher for the program who will start at $61,428, including benefits, and increase to $74,699 by the fifth year.

About half of the dozen citizens who came to the board meeting on Monday night were opposed to the program and expressed concern about its cost after the first couple of years, when the one-time infusion from state aid is gone.  They asked whether it was more important to preserve programs in the middle and high schools than to add to the kindergarten curriculum.  Kindergarten is not required by New York State.

The district conducted a survey on its website earlier this month to gauge support for the program.  Of the 542 responses, 77 percent supported full-day kindergarten.  The majority of respondents, 59 percent, had children in elementary school or about to enter.

Split board

James Coffin was the first board member to give his opinion before the vote on Monday, explaining that he was in favor of the move the last time around.  Now and in the foreseeable future, however, “we are going to be sucked dry of new resources,” he said, and “program costs typically increase…. That new piece becomes a burden on the taxpayers,” he said.

Coffin wondered aloud how the district would fund the program after the state-aid money runs out.  Any additional money to be put into the budget should go towards bolstering the academics in the middle and high schools, he said, concluding, “That’s where I want to see the dollars go.”

Gravino responded to concerns about funding the program in the next few years by saying that the district is dealing only with projections and that it is impossible to know what the economy will be like in three years.  She thought that it was prudent for the district to take the state aid that is offered for the program now.

“I’m right on target with what Kristine’s saying,” Monaghan said.

Lisa Henkel explained that she had weighed studies on the issue, which suggest full-day kindergarten has a significant benefit for students in poor districts, but Voorheesville needs to look at what would benefit its students.  According to the most recent data from the state’s education department, 96 percent of Voorheesville students are white and 3 percent are eligible for free lunches.

“We do need to look at the needs of parents,” Henkel said, as many parents have trouble negotiating day-care arrangements for their young children in a half-day program.  She suggested that Voorheesville look into offering an extension program similar to the one offered by North Colonie, which has half-day kindergarten.  “I cannot support full-day kindergarten in these economic times,” she concluded.

Cheryl Dozier said that the research on the benefits of full-day kindergarten is inconclusive and it would be “short-sighted” to take the state aid in the current economic climate.

“I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t agree with you,” board President Timothy Blow said.  The world is a more competitive place than it was a couple of decades ago and the cost of the program is small compared to the budget as a whole.  He also stressed that administrators were in favor of the program.  “We, as a district, employ, I won’t say very highly paid professionals,” Blow said, but valuable professionals, “and they’re telling us they recommend this… The benefit outweighs the cost.”

Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder, who recommended that the board approve the program, said that she hopes it will attract more parents to the district.

Several housing developments are in various stages of approval in the town of New Scotland and, combined, will add about 200 new houses to the district.

Snyder suspects that parents of kindergarten-age children take them elsewhere to start school in a full-day program.  Also, the district ought to take advantage of state aid while it’s available, she said yesterday.

Asked if she would have recommended starting the program without the aid, she said that she wouldn’t suggest starting any new programs without aid.  Of how the district will handle the cost after the aid runs out, Snyder said, “That’s going to be the challenge.  We’ll have to look at it with all the other programs.”

Monaghan made the motion to start a full-day kindergarten program; Gravino seconded.

Together with Blow they voted in favor of the measure and then, a moment after they cast their votes, Gary Hubert added his vote, making it 4 to 3 in favor, with Coffin, Henkel, and Dozier voting against it.

“To be perfectly honest, I was sort of on the fence until last night,” Hubert said on Tuesday of Monday night’s vote.  “I thought it was important to support the administrators,” he said, adding that he put weight on what Laurie Lysenko, the school’s psychologist, said during the public portion of the meeting as she argued for the program.  Children who have come from full-day kindergarten programs are better prepared for first grade, Lysenko said.

Hubert said he didn’t offer his opinion during the discussion on Monday because much of what he would have said had already been said by other board members.  Asked how the board should handle the added costs from the program in a few years, he said, “At this point, I have no idea, actually.  A great deal depends on the economy.”

The state aid is a stop-gap measure, he said, adding that he couldn’t see where the district would be able to make cuts in the coming year’s budget and the aid, along with the $30,000 that the district expects to save in transportation costs since it won’t have the additional bus runs in the middle of the day, will help fill in gaps.

By Saranac Hale Spencer

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