Half-day save: Snoqualmie Valley school board drops plans to change kindergarten

Kindergarten in the Snoqualmie Valley School District is safe, for now. In response to dozens of parents' pleas, the Snoqualmie Valley School Board voted unanimously Thursday, Feb. 9, to no longer consider a Kindergarten format change for cost savings in the 2012-13 school year.

The decision was welcomed by the full house of parents at the meeting, but prompted warnings from Superintendent Joel Aune, and School Board President Dan Popp.

"I'm not seeing as a possibility, in April, to revisit this," Aune told the board. Kindergarten registration is set for March 6, and parents will build their plans around the Kindergarten schedule they enroll in then.

"It doesn't absolve us of figuring out other ways to manage our budget" Popp added. "So we're going to have to make other tough choices, and we will likely hear from other people in the community when we do that."

The board is anticipating another $1 million to $2 million in state funding cuts for the coming school year, and began considering cost-cutting measures at its Jan. 26 meeting, including a radically restructured schedule for the 484 Kindergarteners projected to enroll next year. Rather than the current half-day, every-day model, district staff proposed an all-day, alternating-day schedule, such as Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday.

By changing to an all-day schedule, district could 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, Assistant Superintendent Don McConkey explained.

Another reason the district considered the change, McConkey noted, is that the state legislature may require all districts to provide full-day Kindergarten by 2016. Currently, the state funds only half-day programs, and schools that offer optional full-day programs make up the difference by charging parents tuition. In Snoqualmie Valley School District, there are generally six full-day programs available, at a cost of $330 per month.

In the district's outreach to parents on the proposed change, McConkey, with supporting comments from school board member Geoff Doy, gave presentations on the proposal Feb. 6 and 7 at Fall City and North Bend Elementary Schools, respectively.

A bleary-eyed Sarah Lenihan, a Montessori preschool teacher, shook off her cold Tuesday night to join more than 60 parents at a meeting to find out just what Kindergarten would look for her kids, 13 students, next year. She and her friend, Sue Erickson, a Montessori Kindergarten teacher, sympathized with the upset parents, but were not as critical of the all-day aspect of the proposal.

"If your child is in school for a longer period of time, if he or she maybe has a learning issue… (the teachers) may be able to detect that and connect you with help," Lenihan said.

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

Research indicates that full-day every-day programs are very beneficial to students, but research on the effects of alternating day programs "is fairly inconclusive," McConkey told parents Tuesday.

Some parents objected to the all-day schedule, saying their 5 year-olds would not do well with it, but the big issue was with alternating days.

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

Parents questioned a change that affected the youngest and most vulnerable students, and for relatively little savings. Doy acknowledged that the $140,000 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 after Kindergarten registration day, before the board saw a budget proposal.

Parents also suggested solutions, McConkey told the school board Thursday, such as car-pooling which has legal issues for the school, or paying extra to keep the half-day schedule.

Board member Marcy Busby, concerned about parents' devotion to the half-day schedule, asked about the effect of a full-day Kindergarten requirement on the district. Currently, the district has 11 half-day programs and six full-day with the potential of up to eight. However, the district does not have enough room or staff to offer full-day Kindergarten to every student. McConkey said the district would need to add 13 classrooms, and up to 11 full-time staff, some of whom are part-time now, to meet the requirement.

What are neighboring school districts doing?

Parents at a Kindergarten information meeting Tuesday briefly discussed how other school districts were scheduling their Kindergarten programs, including Issaquah School District.

Following is a brief comparison of neighboring school districts' Kindergarten programs Only the Monroe School District has transitioned to a full-day, alternating-day schedule for Kindergarten, but the district offers a half-day schedule for parents who choose to transport their children themselves.

Lake Washington - half-day standard with tuition-based full-day. Tuition is $3,300 per year.

Riverview - half-day standard with tuition-based full-day.

Tahoma - half-day standard with tuition-based full-day.

Issaquah - half-day standard with tuition-based full-day.

Enumclaw - half-day standard with tuition-based full-day. Tuition is $2,500, but for six years, the district offered free all-day Kindergarten

Bellevue - half-day standard with tuition-based full-day. Tuition is $3,300 per year.

Renton - half-day standard with tuition-based full-day. Tuition is $285 per month.

Monroe - full-day, alternating day standard, with optional half-day, for parents who want to transport their children themselves.



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