The W-H School Committee will likely be seeking a full-day kindergarten program again for fiscal 2018, this time armed with annual cost estimates beyond the estimated $500,000 start-up costs.
Budget discussions will begin at the committee’s next meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 11 in preparation for the official budget rollout on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend both sessions.
“Starting in January would be a good time to recruit people and show what you support to this committee so we can make our decision moving forward into the next budget year,” said Chairman Bob Hayes at the Wednesday, Dec. 14 meeting. “We have no problem putting in extra seats. We will do that and we’d love to have everyone here.”
Tuition-free full-day kindergarten was part of the $3-million Student Success Budget that failed an override in May.
“I’ve been for this since it first came up, so I say keep going for it,” School Committee member Robert Trotta said. “I think it’s important — we all know it’s important— and it’s a big budget item, but eventually I think we need to get all-day kindergarten into our budget.”
Part of an expected cost reduction after the first year is that a mid-day bus run would not be needed, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner said.
She pointed out that, while the override failed, more parents were convinced of the benefit of full-day kindergarten and enrolled their children. But, educators cautioned the limited number of scholarship slots available creates a “have and have-not” situation, in which some children miss out on the benefits because their parents cannot afford it.
“We’re part of the shameful low part — probably 70 districts — that doesn’t fund kindergarten, Committee member Dan Cullity said. “The state’s already looking to do pre-K, so we’re so far behind, it’s ridiculous.”
“The criticality of this is we can’t have those students starting behind,” agreed Committee member Chris Howard.
Cullity said the South Shore is the only region of the state where most districts do not mandate full-day kindergarten.
“It takes them two to three years to catch up,” he said.
“Sometimes they don’t,” Gilbert-Whitner added.
Hayes asked Business Manager Christine Suckow to research second and third-year costs of full-day kindergarten to provide more information for town officials and voters.
“That’s the number one question I’ve had asked from the finance committee standpoint,” he said.
Gilbert-Whitner also said the state bases Chapter 70 funds for full-day kindergarten as a whole child, where half-day program reimbursement is based on “half a kid.”
“Clearly state aid should go up,” she said. “But that’s not a ‘will,’ that’s a ‘should.’” The district’s status of being short of target share will also have an effect on Chapter 70.
On the other end of the K-12 curriculum, the committee also heard a report on the after-school programs at the high school, now funded by a renewed 21st Century Grant, which the district will soon have to fund.
“Grants are seed money and we are then supposed to move forward,” Gilbert-Whitner said.
The grant has been in place for seven years, initially an annual $105,000 grant for three years which has been renewed once already, according to WHRHS Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak. The district has received more than $700,000 over the seven years, using it to fund after-school programming and transportation.
“For me as a high school principal, sending kids home without parents before 2 p.m. — kids who are at-risk or kids who need support — that’s challenging,” Szymaniak said. The high school day was pushed ahead, ending at 1:40 p.m., to permit a cost-saving bus schedule five years ago. He said the grant-funded programs have provided effective programs for the at-risk population and “kids who need to find a niche after school.”
Szymaniak credits the program for helping bring the dropout rate down to .2 percent from 3.9 percent in 2009.
“That’s our goal here — to graduate kids,” he said. “We’re hoping to renew the grant, but if they don’t fully fund it, I don’t want to cut programs.
After school enrichment program coordinator Maureen Leonard said 40 students take part in academic and emotional support and enrichment programs and she also works with their families. A credit recovery program is also featured for students lacking the credits to graduate in four years.
A success plan is established for each student in the program.
Participant Olivia Affannato spoke of her experience.
“I used it, at first, as somewhere to do my homework because, when I’m at home, I don’t really want to do homework,” she said. “I quickly realized it’s more than just that.”
Affannato said the program had helped her learn to advocate for herself and build relationships with peers and faculty, along with providing her to work with outside groups in regard to her concern over the ongoing opioid crisis.
“Programs like this probably should be highlighted even more,” Trotta said. “People need to know that schools do have special programs like this and students can become very successful.”
Szymaniak said there is a team approach at W-H to support all students.