MOUNT VERNON — During his third State of the State address on Jan. 28, 2009, Gov. Ted Strickland released his plan to reform Ohio’s education system. One goal of the plan is to expand learning opportunities for students, and one component of that is to establish universal all-day kindergarten, abolishing the traditional half-day sessions for young pupils.
The Ohio Revised Code mandates all school districts provide all-day, every day kindergarten to all students beginning with the 2010-11 school year. Locally, Danville, East Knox, Highland and North Fork school districts, as well as St. Vincent de Paul School, already offer all-day kindergarten. Centerburg, Fredericktown and Mount Vernon are among the 40 percent of districts statewide that do not.
The benefit of all-day kindergarten, said East Knox Elementary principal Matt Caputo, is that pupils are going to be a lot more prepared and a lot more solid for their first-grade year.
“[Legislators] are asking us to get kids prepared for a life that you and I can’t even imagine nowadays, and to start them early to get them ready for what is expected of them,” he said. “In theory, the all-day kindergarten kids are further along academically when they enter first grade, and definitely the kids have more steam. That’s a nice transition to the next grade level.
“The children are building up some endurance and stamina as well as learning how to interact at lunch time, which a lot of the half-dayers don’t get to do. There’s a big social piece to it,” continued Caputo. “The other thing is, if I had just half-dayers, they might not get art, or they might not get library or computer or physical education or music. From a full-day perspective, we can get pupils exposed to more things earlier on because there is more time.”
Schools districts which do not currently have all-day kindergarten are facing major hurdles to meet the legislative mandates — financial, space and personnel constraints are among those obstacles. Acknowledging those difficulties, the legislation allows school districts to submit a waiver application to the Ohio Department of Education to delay implementation until the 2011-12 school year. The waiver request must include a resolution from the local board of education justifying the delay.
Centerburg is planning to make the request the week of Jan. 11. Superintendent Dorothy Holden said the district will have to find space for 100 more pupils, possibly requiring many programs to be relocated. The district would also need to hire three more teachers and possibly two more educational assistants, she said. Since Centerburg kindergartners do not currently eat at school, the additional 100 pupils would affect the already tight cafeteria schedule and the even tighter cafeteria budget.
Holden said Centerburg has tried to keep a 17-to-1 kindergarten student/teacher ratio, but adding all-day classes will force the district to go to the maximum 20-to-1 ratio. That will work in the short term, but, Holden said, the bill calls for the ratio to be 15-to-1 over the next five years in kindergarten, first and second grades, too.
“That is just out of reach for a district such as Centerburg,” she said.
Holden estimates the cost to implement all-day kindergarten will be close to $200,000 to start with per year. Asked where the money will come from, Holden replied, “We are already eating away at our carry-over [cash balance]. The state pays only 60 percent of the cost to educate a child. This will just push us closer to the red line and put into jeopardy unprotected programs and grade levels, causing those classes to climb in enrollment. When you squeeze the balloon at one end, the air has to go somewhere. I just hope it does not burst the balloon.”
“I think our kindergarten teachers do a great job with the kids they have for the half-day,” said Steve Short, superintendent of Mount Vernon City Schools. “I think [all-day] is a great concept. We had extended-day kindergarten for certain students for a while, then federal funds, which paid for extended-day kindergarten, went away.”
Short said he is leaning toward asking the board of education to request a waiver and is still compiling information about implementation costs and other factors so the board can make an educated decision.
His preliminary calculations indicate start-up costs range from $800,000 to $900,000 for all-day, everyday kindergarten in the district. To start, he said, a modular unit would need to be installed at four of the elementary buildings. Besides the unit itself, there would be plumbing, utility and other installation costs, which is estimated at $75,000 to $80,000 apiece.
That estimate does not include desks, materials and other supplies for the new spaces or the salaries for eight additional teachers or the increased custodial staff which might be needed.
Busing would also be affected, said Short. Bus routes could be changed, but that would depend upon how many of the kindergartners ride the bus and how many walk or are transported by parents.
There would be a distinct impact on the cafeterias.
“You’d have another grade in there [about 325 extra pupils distributed between the elementary schools],” said Short. “You would have to try to figure out how to get pupils in and out in a timely manner. Usually, you try to feed all your kids in an hour. ... There would be eating pieces to it; there would be recess pieces to it; there would be supervision pieces to it.”
Short said the district has not received any additional state dollars to fund all-day kindergarten. “When you don’t see an increase in the state aid,” Short said, “it really makes it difficult to do it.”
Fredericktown superintendent Jim Peterson said the administration and school board members will discuss the issue at the January board meeting.
The new law also states:
•Although all-day, everyday kindergarten services must be offered to all students, if a family requests the half-day schedule, districts must accommodate the request.
•If providing all-day kindergarten continues to be a hardship in the 2011-12 school year, districts can apply for an additional waiver.