Long days ahead; Snoqualmie Valley Kindergarten change, proposed to save district budget, draws fire from parents

Bleary-eyed and with a handful of tissues, Montessori preschool teacher Sarah Lenihan shook off her cold Tuesday, Feb. 7, to find out what Kindergarten will look  like for 13 of her students next year.

She joined more than 60 parents who wanted to know more about a radical restructuring proposed for the Kindergarten schedule, from today's half-day classes Monday through Friday, to full-day classes every other day, with alternating Fridays.

"The parents, they all just found out this week," said Sue Erickson, a Montessori Kindergarten teacher attending the meeting with Lenihan. "They're all still up in the air."

The proposal, presented by Assistant Superintendent Don McConkey, with supporting comments from school board member Geoff Doy, was prompted by budget challenges, and because the state could require all-day Kindergarten in all school districts by 2016, McConkey said. Currently, the state requires and funds only half-day programs, but many districts offer an optional, tuition-supplemented full-day program.

Snoqualmie Valley School District is seeking to cut its expenditures by up to $2 million next year, McConkey said, in anticipation of further state funding reductions. By changing the Kindergarten program, projected to serve 242 students next year, to an all-day schedule, the district can eliminate the mid-day bus run, and potentially earn revenue from Kindergarten students participating in the school lunch program, for an overall savings of about $140,000.

Doy acknowledged that the savings seemed small compared to the overall $2 million, and said he definitely wanted to see them in contrast with other proposed budget reductions before making a final decision. However, he said it would likely be months before the board saw a budget proposal, and Kindergarten registration begins in March.

He also said that, since announcing the proposed change, "We're getting some really quality feedback, from one-liners like 'I hate it,' to some really well thought-out comments." The trend has been about 40 percent in favor of the change to 60 percent against.

Arguments in favor of the change included research showing the benefits of all-day Kindergarten for children, although those studies focused on every-day classes, not alternating-day. The research on alternating-day programs, he added "is fairly inconclusive."

Increased teacher-contact time, the opportunity for children to ride the bus with their siblings, and a smoother transition to first grade were also listed as benefits of the program.

After the meeting, Lenihan, who teaches all-day preschool, mentioned another potential benefit, a chance to identify any special needs that might be developing in a student. "If your child is in school for a longer period of time… (the teachers) may be able to detect that and connect you with help," she said.

Erickson added that such issues typically aren't identified until first grade, when children are there full days.

At this meeting, a majority of parents were strongly opposed to the change because of the full-day schedule. They that Kindergarteners are too young to go to school for a full day without breaks. Alternating days are an obstacle to learning, too, they said, since kids need a consistent schedule.

"I don't think this schedule would be good for a fifth grader," said Greg, who's seen two of his children through Kindergarten so far.

Several parents also said they would not enroll their Kindergarteners in the program, which would decrease enrollment, and potentially staff as a result.

"My child would absolutely be a mess with this schedule," said Amber. "It's like saying let's do potty-training every other day… and on the days in between, you're still potty-trained."

"Consistency is the hallmark of anything that you do with a Kindergartener," said another parent, Tamara Franklin.

The parents also suggested solutions.

"I think we're all sympathetic to the budget cuts," said one mother, "but I was wondering if there were a reason, why we couldn't consider a choice, or transporting our child or having them in the alternating schedule?"

"I would be willing to pay additional to run on the same schedule we have now," said another.

Several parents offered carpools.

McConkey said all of their feedback would be presented to the school board at its next meeting, Thursday, Feb. 9. The board will hold a work session, open to the public, at 6:15, with the regular meeting following at 7:30 p.m. The board meets at the district office, 8001 Silva Ave. S.E. Snoqualmie.



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