Monti School Board holds line on all-day fees for kindergarten

Monticello parents of soon-to-be kindergartners took that first step in sending their little ones off to school this week, with kindergarten registration taking place at both of the district’s elementary schools Monday or Tuesday. Included in their packet of informational papers was a survey board members say will help the school district shape its changing philosophy on all-day kindergarten.
Board members delayed a decision regarding the future of all-day kindergarten funding at Monday evening’s board meeting, opting instead to leave rates unchanged for the 2013-14 school year for a total fee of $2,665 for the year, a change from the previous meeting’s recommendation that rates be hiked by $90 per student for the next school year.
However, by the time this issue rolls around for the 2014-15 school year, the board said it would have had the time most members say is necessary to investigate all their options and make decisions based on good information.
“I haven’t heard anybody that doesn’t think it’s a good idea,” said board member Liz Leitch-Sell, “it’s just a matter of making sure that we ask the right questions … so that when we do decide to do something, that we do the best thing that we can do for the most kids with the resources that we have.”
As a preliminary rough estimate, Superintendent Jim Johnson thought it might cost the district somewhere just south of $200,000 per year to fully subsidize all-day kindergarten for low-income students who want to participate in the program. Other options, such as a sliding scale fee, will be considered as well as the option of lowering the rates for everybody.
One group that went on the record to support expanded all-day kindergarten offerings were the kindergarten teachers themselves. Little Mountain’s kindergarten teachers addressed board members in a letter last week that explained the academic rigor of today’s kindergarten and expressed concern over their ability to implement the curriculum to the depth they feel is necessary for student success. They asked the board to “research carefully how many of the current families are choosing half day for ‘parenting reasons’ or because they cannot afford the cost of full-day kindergarten.”
Board member Scott Hill remained the most steadfast supporter of taking quicker action on this issue.
“I agree that we have to look at everything, but with a projected $3.8 million fund balance … I can’t think of a better place for it to go,” Hill said. “I don’t know of anywhere else in the district where access is determined by financial means. In the athletic department, if you can’t pay, you still play. But in kindergarten-as much as we talk about how good it is-if you can’t pay, you can’t be [in the all-day program]. No survey is going to change that fact for me.”
To me, this is really about excluding students based on ability to pay, and that’s not what we are about as an educational institution,” he added.
After settling the kindergarten fee issue, the board moved on to deciding when Monticello’s students-kindergarten and otherwise-will be attending school next year. They have compiled three different options, outlined as follows:
Option 1: No spring break, which gives the maximum possible school days before standardized testing takes place in April. This option would include a four-day break around Easter. School would end May 29.
Option 2: Spring break taking place the last weekend of March, similar to this year’s calendar. This would give families an easy option for planning a spring break trip, but Johnson cautioned that families often plan trips for when it works best personally, not always following the school calendar. School would get out June 5.
Option 3: A new option was presented that does not include a full spring break week, but instead offers two five-day weekend options, one towards the end of March and another around Easter weekend. School would get out June 5. Some teachers have expressed their dislike for this option because they say three-day weeks are trickier to schedule their curriculum around.
Johnson said the board would be discussing these three options in more detail and taking action to set the calendar at the next board meeting, March 18.
In other business, the board:
•Accepted a $4,937 donation from Viking Coca-Cola to help the district cover costs for new athletic uniforms.
•Heard a presentation about Schoology from two middle school teachers, Sonia Johnson and Luke Feierabend. Schoology is a web-based class enrichment program that allows students watch videos about their lessons, take quizzes, post items to discussion boards, upload worksheets and other features. There are currently about 20 middle school teachers taking part in the pilot program.
•Heard a capital budget presentation from business manager Tina Burkholder. Burkholder said an initial $3.63 million list of capital improvements has been whittled down to a little over $1.45 million, but they have more work to do to get down to their budget of $1.17 million. Currently, the largest budget item on the list is technology expenses, at over $400,000. District technology director Sue Heidt said this money covers the annual operating costs to maintain infrastructure, networking equipment and software licensing for all schools in the district. This includes the district-owned fiber optic system, servers and storage, connectivity equipment for Internet access, the student records system and network security, among other things.
Other expenses on the list include $305,000 for curriculum materials, a portion of Little Mountain’s roof repair project and a Pinewood project that would open up additional classroom space by creating six smaller rooms in the current east media center for teachers who work with smaller groups to utilize the smaller rooms versus full-sized classrooms, along with many other lower-expense projects. Final recommendations for the capital improvement list will come at the next board meeting.
•Heard a superintendent report regarding the district’s continuing research into the viability of adding trapshooting as a school sport. Johnson said they are running through a full list of possible implications such as insurance issues, access to guns for those who do not own one and adequate volunteer training, among other things before a decision is made.
Johnson also brought up the issue of the federal government’s sequestration. He said federal funds will be cut for next school year, but he said the district had already anticipated this possibility and they budgeted for an 8 percent cut in all federal funds.
The next board meeting will take place at 6 p.m. March 18 in the middle school boardroom.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.