January 24, 2013 at 9:07 a.m.
For those who have been anxious to hear about all day, every day kindergarten offerings at Chisago Lakes Schools-- you’ll have to wait a little longer. A nearly four hour School Board meeting last week yielded no decision by the six directors on the Board. Chisago Lakes School Board members did agree the current every other day kindergarten schedule is undesireable. The Board did agree that research indicates kindergarteners getting comprehensive instructional time in the all-day setting, benefit educationally.
The Board did agree that nearby school districts already offering all day, every day K could attract local families to open enroll out. What the Board did not agree on was how much this should cost families who choose to enroll (there needs to still be a half-day K option under state law) or if families ought to even be charged a fee at all. The debate January 15 began with Board members expressing general dissatisfaction about Chisago Lakes’ current every-other-day K schedule. Teachers don’t like it, parents don’t like it. One major shortcoming is the gap in seat time, when there’s a Monday holiday for instance, or even a brief illness and the every other day kindergartener will miss school for several days. The district has saved about $100,000 not running daily, mid-day bus routes. All-day sessions for kindergarteners in Chisago Lakes’ elementary schools have been available for families for about four years-- if they pay $2,700 per year.
The district collects this fee because state funding formulas consider a kindergartener only worth funding at point-six (about half) of what the state will send to a district to educate an older student. Until this weighted state formula, based on average attendance, is changed districts are on their own. Most districts charge all day K fees; still much less than a family looking in the private sector would expect to spend for daycare/preschool. If the Board can come up with what the superintendent estimated at $280,000 to $300,000 to provide all day, every day K, Chisago Lakes could offer it for no fee. Complicating the decision is the fact that there’s about $500,000 in budget cuts needed in order to rise above red ink being projected. The financial audit for the year that ended June 30, 2012 was accepted last week and the half-million is based on that. The district does have enough fund balance (or carryover) to support an all day every day kindergarten but for only about one year. Board member Lori Berg observed that when the actual budget cuts are announced there will also need to be clear priorities and a plan from the Board to explain the fiscal juggling act.
The superintendent said this will be a situation where the values and educational direction of the district will “perhaps clash.” Berg said she hopes this session of the state legislature will provide some kindergarten funding, at least earmarked for low income families on free and reduced lunch rosters. “I don’t think we’ll be paying the whole bill,” she commented of all day, every day K. Berg, who works for the district as a reading specialist, also noted that kindergarteners who get full day, consistent early instruction cost taxpayers less later in areas of special education and instructional intervention. They simply tend to do better when they get an early grasp of foundational skills, especially reading. Newly-elected
Board member Brenda Carlson suggested a compromise. Could the district endorse all day, every day K but use an income based sliding fee similar to what Community Education utilizes? That would still bring in some revenues and create a more affordable option than the flat $2,700 now assessed. Board member Tom Lawlor made a motion to create a sliding fee for all day every day K at least for next year, “as a bridge to a referendum.” But Lawlor withdrew the motion after discussion generated more questions than answers. Superintendent Mike McLoughlin said residents won’t be happy if some residents are paying more for all day every day K than others. He stated, “It sounds to me like you’re trying to do it on the cheap.” Berg responded that disparities already exist. Various funds help with sports and activity fee scholarships, field trip support, lunch price subsidies and more. Three or four residents in the audience told the Board they’d be willing to make “donations” if that would be considered. Business Services Director Heide Miller explained there’s no process to channel direct educational revenue through a Community Ed style account. The state has strict General Fund tracking regulations, and a hybrid like what’s being proposed doesn’t fit.
She also had issues with how incomes for sliding fee requests are verified. Supt. McLoughlin said when the Board starts firming up an excess levy referendum ballot, tentatively planned for November, there must be local tax funding requested for all day, every day K. The legislature will have finished the session by May and any new state monies will be clearer. McLoughlin is retiring at the end of this school year, however, and he added that will be a Board conversation with the next superintendent. School Board Chair Mark Leigh wondered how many are expected for an all day, every day kindergarten. If there aren’t enough students to create a classroom (approx.. 20 students), to support hiring an additional teacher, he was concerned it’s possible the district could end up seriously crowding kids into existing kindergarten classes. Board member Gerald Vitalis also remarked he’s not sure that, at any level of fee, “we’ll capture that many kids.” He stated the right thing to do for improved educational outcomes is provide all day, every day K. “If we had the money we wouldn’t be spending five minutes on this,” he declared.
The Chisago Lakes School Board set a special meeting for tonight Jan. 24 to continue this review. There will also be detailed information on administrative recommendations for accomplishing the pending half-million in spending reductions too. Chisago Lakes Kindergarten Round-up events start soon and parents have been contacting elementary principals about this issue, said Brenda Schell, Primary Principal. It’s a very hot topic, she explained. FYI... A state informational piece about Governor Mark Dayton’s support for all day, every day K reported about 70 percent of children in the United States are in some form of extended everyday kindergarten program. In Minnesota about 37 percent are in similar programs. ~ The Board also adopted no change in its $45 per diem or annual wages. Board members re-elected Leigh as chair. ~ Enrollment for 2012-2013 as of this month is 3,361. The September count was 3,373. Wolf Creek distance learning charter school is at 148. ~ The Board acknowledged donations from Center City Fire charitable gambling ($300 to help kids pay for Wolf Ridge overnight and $300 for the girls and boys basketball program.)
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