by Tammy Sakry
This fall St. Francis School District 15 kindergarten students will be going to school for a much longer day.
By a 7-0 vote, the school board Feb. 13 agreed to begin all day, every day kindergarten for all of its incoming kindergarten students.
Currently, the district offers all day kindergarten only to families willing to pay the tuition.
By eliminating $101,365 from the bus route budget for the middle day routes and using $254,623 in literacy aid funds, the district will be able to offer the new kindergarten program tuition free, Superintended Ed Saxton said.
Literacy aid was approved in the last legislative session to help combat the achievement gap, he said.
Gov. Mark Dayton wants students to be able to read and do math by the end of the third grade, Saxton said.
The district will also be using $353,526 in intervention funds and $99,856 from the Tween Time for the program.
“Tween Time is new this school year. The every day, half day kindergarten daily time at school was extended by 45 minutes this school year,” said Business Services Director Mae Hawkins.
“This program would be eliminated by the all day every day program – the budget for this program would be repurposed to cover the expenses related to the all day, every day kindergarten program.”
By offering all day, every day kindergarten, the district will be addressing educational intervention issues right out of the shoot and there should be less intervention needed later, Saxton said.
Students in all day, every day kindergarten are academically ahead of half day kindergarten students, he said.
While all day, every day kindergarten is wonderful, Boardmember Suzanne Erkel questioned if parents wanting half day kindergarten will still be able to use it and how many new teachers will have to be hired.
The current kindergarten program will be replaced by the all day, every day, there will be no half day option and the nine teachers needed for the new program will be from the existing teaching staff, Saxton said.
What happens if the funding goes away, Erkel said.
The board will have to make decisions on what to cut, Saxton said.
“I would hope the board does not make decisions on what-ifs, but by the academic benefit to the students,” Boardmember Amy Kelly said.
By repurposing resources, the program is cost neutral for the district and it should take advantage of it, said Boardmember David Anderson.
Currently, the district has five sections of all day kindergarten every day with 94 students.
Parents pay $2,900 a year for the program.
The rest of the kindergartners attend for a half day, every day.
Also approved with the motion was permission to start a pilot STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program in the fourth grade during the 2012-2013 school year.
According to Curriculum Coordinator Kurt Becker, it is the start of a five-year plan to provide STEM opportunities for students in grades four through eight.
It is expected the high school will develop STEM programming during that time.
Although the new kindergarten and STEM programs received a unanimous vote, they almost did not make it out of the starting gate.
Board Chairwoman Marsha Van Denburgh wanted to remove the issue when the board was considering the agenda.
Not all the information the board was given was received five calendar days before the meeting as required by the board’s policy, she said.
Although the board agenda packet included the description of the program and the reasons why the district wanted to expand the kindergarten and STEM programs, it was insufficient information, Van Denburgh said.
The financial information requested by board members was not received in a timely manner and it was information what should have been included in the packet, she said.
While she is not against either program, the board had not discussed it before and “it feels like a rush decision,” Van Denburgh said.
This has been discussed numerous times in the past years, said Anderson.
The district’s Financial Planning Action Committee (FPAC) has discussed and investigated these programs and the financials before recommending them, said Boardmember Janet Glover.
That work should be respected, she said.
The board can vote to table the program decisions later in the meeting, but at least give staff a chance to present the information, said Human Resources Director David Lindberg.
The district’s student enrollment has decreased more than the 7.4 percent decline in population between 2000 and 2010 and these programs are part of the district’s plan to attract more students, he said.
If the board had waited until Feb. 21 to consider the new kindergarten program, the district would have missed the opportunity to send out the information with the kindergarten round-up packets, Saxton said.
It could have also sent a message to parents that they should go somewhere else if they are looking for all day, every day kindergarten, he said.
If the board pulls the kindergarten and STEM programs from the agenda because the supplemental information requested by the board members was not received five days before the meeting, it would be dangerous road to go down, Kelly said.
The members would be sending themselves a message not to ask for additional information, she said.
She encouraged the board to keep it on the agenda and have the discussion, Kelly said.
Why is this coming now and why can’t the board be more proactive on things like this, Erkel said.
“I want time to do the research. I don’t like surprises popping up like this,” she said.
Although several department directors attempted to weigh in on the discussion, Van Denburgh limited the discussion to the board.
“Is it the board’s policy not to consider the directors? They were involved in the planning and you are pushing away valuable information,” Saxton said.
The human resources director is in charge of the policies, he said.
After being recognized by Van Denburgh, Lindberg weighed in on a second policy that gives the superintendent authorization to act when no policy exists to provide guidance and he is “to act appropriately under the circumstances keeping in mind the educational philosophy and financial condition of the school district.”
According to the board’s policy, this approval could have been done at the administrative level without coming to the board, Lindberg said.
Van Denburgh said she disagreed with that and that there are policies that say the board makes changes to budget expenditures.
“So, you are saying the policy you found is validated, but other policies are invalidated just because you don’t agree with them,” said Student Board Representative Nate Lipinski.
“We need to consider what other policies say.”
The staff spends about 40-50 hours working budgets and “our job is the management (of the district). (The board’s) job is policy,” said Tom Larson, community education and services custodial/maintenance director.
If the program is delayed, it will put the system and people in jeopardy, he said.
In the future, Van Denburgh said she wants minutes from committee and cabinet meetings and the information in a timely manner.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org