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School Committee Decides No Full-Day Kindergarten This Year

Nick DiSilvio (credit: Anne-Marie Fiore)
Nick DiSilvio (credit: Anne-Marie Fiore)

Part two of a two part transcript of the Jan. 7, 2014 Chelmsford School Committee meeting. For Part One, click here.

8:26 to 9:44 p.m.

Rigney began an update on full-day kindergarten, particularly full-day without a fee charge.

Going without a fee appeared problematic, so Tiano has been asked for an alternative.

The presentation began with a background citing that the goal was to provide full-day kindergarten for all students for free, and that the last attempt to do this was in 2008.

The School Committee voted to continue pursuing this proposal on Sept. 13, 2013. Since then, a grant for $40,000 has been obtained, estimated costs of nearly $1 million were estimated and other parts of town government had been contacted.

Tiano said there are three options other than free full-day kindergarten and also mentioned possible Chapter 70 money impacting the options.

-          The district goes forward on its own for one year.

-          The district provides fewer classrooms and phases the program in.

-          The district could provide a fee that is phased in.

Tiano then mentioned  the districts currently charge a fee of $340 a month($3,400 a year for 10 months), for half-day programs. 

Tiano noted that kindergarten registration is happening next week and in August.

Currently there are six classrooms doing this.

The second proposal, which is still a draft, would charge $3,500 and would provide a lottery for parents for their children to participate.

There would also be no public transportation to the Community Education Building and before and after school daycare would be provided as it currently is at Elementary Schools.

However, state law says that kindergarten has to be provided, although possibly not in this case since it is considered optional.

Tiano said that the district would try to work on providing transportation, which will take time due to the large geographic area that Chelmsford contains.

If the timing was shifted to 9 a.m., busses used for Elementary Schools could be used for kindergarten transportation, and this would cost approximately $60,000 to 80,000.

For the Community Education program, there would still be Lion’s Pride daycare (18 months to age 5), the CHIPS program (integrated preschool), a full day kindergarten program and continued community education.

Tiano said that this proposal provides the advantages of choice for parents, families being able to use half-day programs, the fact that the full-day program is approximately the same cost, fees will cover most of the cost of implementation and the district can conduct its own research on full day effectiveness.

He continued with other potential advantages including the use of an existing building, flexibility in class sizes and other items.

However, he also noted disadvantages including that full-day would not be included for all students, and the transportation concerns as well as some shifting of offices.

The costs are projected at $490,000 approximately, with staffing at $432,600. It is expected that there will be 120 students that would provide approximately $420,000, although not all parents might pay full price.

With grants, the budget cost is $30,000.

There is expected to be six teachers, and 11 total staff members.

Tiano then went over enrollment figures and concluded the presentation, saying it’s a different concept and that the committee has done a good job looking at possibilities, saying that this proposal is still a work in progress.

He said that the town’s financial situation isn’t going to change next year, but that the same realities would be here then. He also noted that this was educationally important and this would be a first step.

Thoren asked relating to the transportation issue relating to fees, with Rigney saying that fees cannot be charged to parents if there are other fees and Kathy McWilliams saying it is possible for homes within a two mile radius.

Thoren then asked with phasing in the program followed by a question relating to the KCC (Kindergarten/Childcare) program and how it might impact with half-day parents.

She said that the lottery was fair, but that KCC would have to be provided.

Discussion continued to the budget of KCC, with a loss of approximately $21,000 to community education programs from the loss of space at the Community Education building.

Thoren asked about current enrollment at KCC, and discussion continued, with school committee members wondering if parents would want to opt in for full-day programs for an extra $100 and some parents need to go to full-day since they currently use half-day and KCC for the other half of the school day.

Rigney said that too much demand is a good thing, but DiSilvio and McWilliams said that there was not enough space, making it not a good thing.

Thoren asked another question relating to classes, with Tiano saying that there is a market for six classes, and possibly less, but hopefully more. He also said that he’d have to see it play out for a year and see how it impacts elementary schools in regard to space issues elsewhere in town.

Rigney then asked to explore another question by Thoren on costs related to running classes at the Community Education building, but no costs provided at elementary schools from transportation savings, but he said that it was sticky due to the number of potential classes that are given.

McWilliams then asked about the division between full-day and half-day kindergarten.

DiSilvio said that parents would pay a bus fee for neighborhood schools, but McWilliams disagreed, and then DiSilvio felt that it was unfair to add bus fees on top of tuition fees.

Discussion continued and DiSilvio said that the separation between the haves and the have nots really bothers him, as it does for Thoren.

Thoren asked about the starting time of elementary schools and kindergarten and how it affects family with students at both levels and also IEP program funding and if the town knows how many students would be impacted from current data at CHIPS.

Tiano answered and then Thoren asked another question relating to the lottery.

Tiano said that half of the students needed daycare in the morning and half did not.

Thoren then said the Westlands School (now the Community Education Center) may have traffic issues since it is directly on Stedman Street. Tiano said he dealt with it for six years.

He also said this is the best case scenario.

Kristen Rodriguez then talked about current dropoff issues at KCC, and Rigney said that currently there are more than 120 students at the Westlands School and there were when it was an elementary school, although he said that the traffic impact needs to be considered.

Thoren said that she may have a thousand more questions later, but said that this isn’t a new concept since Community Education thought about doing this before and did not like the solution.

Tiano replied and agreed, explaining the solution.

DiSilvio said he was struggling with this option, saying that the School Committee needs to be fiscally responsible and that the School Department will need to pay out of its own budget.

He asked about how many busses will be needed, with an answer of five that would cost approximately $80,000.

DiSilvio then said he wants to see a five year plan of the budget, saying that even with fees, eventually the cost will be $500,000.

He said he wants this to happen, but it has to go down the right path. He said there are too much issues to examine, but a decision needs to be made now.

But he also said that more discussion needs to be done with the Town Manager and Selectmen over possible compromise, but that rushing into this for six classes will tick off parents.

He said that it wasn’t likely that all the pieces of the puzzle would be solved in the next two weeks, and that he could not commit currently.

Thoren replied, with DiSilvio saying that full-day kindergarten is a benefit to kids, but he was upset that some kids will not benefit.

Rigney noted that Skaar and Thomas were quiet and Skaar said that the equitable decision is not to provide full-day kindergarten until is it required and asked why tuition isn’t charged for high school seniors, saying it was arbitrary.

DiSilvio asked Thomas not to get ticked off, but he noted that it probably won’t be the School Committee’s decision and that DiSilvio’s subcommittee won’t come in to take a $500,000 loss.

He also noted the transportation may have an impact and that in the future the town will ask “why did it get to this point” like with other issues, and that this was just postponing a decision.

Thomas also had issues with equity.

Skaar asked if it was worth going to Town Meeting asking for free tuition, saying was not politically feasible, and that there may be funding from the state, although it’s unlikely from previous experience.

Rodriguez said that this was hard to propose since it was not what everyone wanted, but it came down to the question of whether full-day would be provided to all students or none.

She hoped that this would be better than nothing.

DiSilvio went back to the numbers provided by Tiano, saying they are not good and that tuition may be lower than expected.

Rigney asked about $18,000 for benefit costs, saying that the district is not hiring 13 new people.

Tiano noted that there would be benefits for 13 full time equivalent positions even though there will only be 11 new full time staff members, that part time staff are eligible for benefits at a certain amount.

There was also confusion over whether the $18,000 figure came from 12 plans or Town Manager Paul Cohen.

Rigney then said he’d go along with Nick over the tuition loss from reduced tuitions, although he thought losing a third of the amount was unlikely.

He also noted that the median income for a family in Chelmsford is $100,000 a year and he’d like numbers from other districts that are doing this.

Rigney then noted that almost all the districts that ask for fees are along 495.

Rodriguez said that some towns don’t charge due to Chapter 70 money.

Rigney then said he wanted to reframe on the question of equity relating to educational equity with DiSilvio saying half-day kindergarteners get half of the education and Rigney saying they get half of the hours.

Rigney said that afternoon kindergarteners had less time on learning but they outperformed their morning peers.

There was more discussion and Skaar asked what would happen if half-day kids did better than full-day kids.

Rigney said that the important thing is monitoring.

Thomas said we’re already late, but asked if in two weeks Tiano can come back with a better financial picture.

Tiano replied that he is showing the committee where they’re at in the process and asked if they wanted another wrinkle in March and that in comparison to the past year and a half, progress has been made and that school choice money could be used.

DiSilvio disagreed, saying that was just one year, and that a five year plan would need to be used.

Evelyn asked about the grant money, but Rodriguez said if full-day kindergarten was not pursued, it would have to be given back and it would be increasingly hard to get it if it was given back.

DiSilvio said it will be easier if the cost for free full-day kindergarten is lower than $1.2 million and more money and that it was a good idea to work more the Selectmen and Town Manager.

Thoren then talked more about tweaking numbers and asked to come back in two weeks.

Tiano said it would just be back to Thomas’ question: can we do it?

Tiano said that a plan could be made for the next school year, but the School Committee would have more questions.

Rigney says that a vote is needed at the next meeting and that a decision needs to be made tonight whether this will not happen this year or it will happen.

There was more discussion relating to this, with Tiano saying he will do what the School Committee asks of him in terms of providing possible plans.

DiSilvio said a decision needed to be made today and not pushed back to Tiano.

Rigney asked if anyone wanted to make a motion, Thomas moved that the district delay implementation for a year, DiSilvio seconded.

Thomas then said the town will ask what else will the schools ask for help with, saying that help with this would provide in help in nothing else.

DiSilvio then said that there may be changed in capital expenditures in the future agreed upon at Town Meeting, but there was more discussion on that and Thoren asked about work on for-profit kindergarten in two classrooms done by Community Education that could act as a pilot program while half-day kindergarten would continue to be provided by the schools.

Rigney said he does not share concerns about educational equity compared to others, but he says that the committee’s job is getting students to the mark, not beyond the mark and sees it not as some students not getting as much as others but some getting more than they’re getting now.

The motion was approved, and DiSilvio thanked Tiano.

9:44 to 9:45 p.m.

Rigney asked to skip a policy update, even though it had to do with the Turf Field naming rights policy and asked for a workshop at a later date.

9:45 to 9:47 p.m.

Rigney added an agenda item relating to track team field trip, which was approved.

Liason reports were skipped, and no items were given onto the action item list.

The next scheduled meeting is Jan. 21

Terri Anstiss January 08, 2014 at 05:04 PM
Surprising? NO. Disgusting? YES. I also heard today the District will be cutting subs to cover SPED aides who work closely with SPED teachers/students to deliver federal/state-mandated IEP services. ***Really Chelmsford?*** Now that's what I call "hitting below the belt" in no uncertain terms.
Terri Anstiss January 08, 2014 at 05:06 PM
P.S. I am wondering why the TURF FIELDS in this town get so much attention while SPED services and Full day Kindergarten get tossed into the TRASH CAN?!?!
Anna Bucciarelli January 08, 2014 at 06:24 PM
Great question!
Alan Jay Rom January 10, 2014 at 11:26 AM
The decision to delay full-day kindergarten is perhaps "penny-wise," but is certainly "pound-foolish." The benefits of full-day kindergarten have been proven over and over by longitudinal studies and to deny the importance of full-day kindergarten is to attempt to prove that the wheel isn't round. Alan Jay Rom
Philip M January 10, 2014 at 01:23 PM
The benefits are not nearly as black and white as you suggest. It seems to me the strong feelings on the issue have as much to do with parental convenience as they do with education. "Research is inconclusive on longer-term impacts..academic gains of full-day programs had largely disappeared by the end of first grade... some research finds that children in full-day programs have more behavior problems" http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=full-day-kindergarten
Paul January 11, 2014 at 12:27 PM
If you really care about your children and education try homeschooling. Studies show kids do better if homeschooled. That is what you want, right?
Tyler Jozefowicz January 11, 2014 at 12:59 PM
The referenced article in the post above also goes on to state some positives; "Overall, children who spend time in full-day kindergarten programs are more likely than children who spend time in half-day kindergarten programs to devote time every day to reading, mathematics, and social studies. Full-day kindergarten allows teachers more time to promote formal and informal learning, reduces the number of transitions in a child’s day, and allows children to get used to a schedule similar to that which they will have in first grade. In the short-term, children attending full-day kindergarten programs tend to do better in school than do children attending half-day kindergarten programs, and show stronger academic gains in kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten programs may be especially beneficial for children from low-income families, especially if class size remains small. " My firm belief, the more school the better. We all know the reluctance here is coming up with the extra $900,000(est) a year to fund it. This is a battle between the upwardly mobile (Chelmsford median income 100K) and the fixed income residents that comprise the bulk of the voter base. federal aid to states would probably solve this , but we're too busy starting unpaid wars and tax relief for the wealthy.
Philip M January 11, 2014 at 06:58 PM
Paul, I believe homeschooled children perform better because those parents are taking an active role in their children's education, not because they are homeschooled. Those children would likely perform better than average in the public school system as well.
Anna Bucciarelli January 12, 2014 at 10:29 AM
In a previous post on this topic Alan J. Rom managed to convince me that full-day K classes can improve the overall educational experience for children. I argued that time spent at home with parents and sibs was equally nourishing and I still believe it is important to total development and that is one of the reasons why I think home schooling has its benefits, learning in a home environment surrounded by those who genuinely care about the child. Saying that, however, poses the question of how many households can provide that, especially those that are one-parent households or those where both parents work outside the home. I do see benefits in providing full-day K classes but I also think it is really decided by what the individual child an handle and how invested the parents are. It's a tricky decision ... do we turn over our kids to others or do we invest ourselves in giving them undivided and devoted attention to their learning experience within a home and familial surroundings? It can go both ways I think but, again, the option for full-day K should be provided and the decision for the child to participate should rely upon the judgement of the parents, can their little one keep awake throughout the day (many still nap), will the child actually absorb what is being taught, and what exactly IS being taught. In the end, we parents are servants to our children and our decisions regarding their education starts the day they are born and we are responsible for deciding what is best for them until they are old enough to make their own decisions; hopefully by that time, we have done a fairly good job of informing and guiding them.

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