Officials detail cost of all-day program for kindergarteners

Most parents at meeting lend support against state mandate to lengthen class

Carroll County

October 16, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

In an effort to test the waters and gauge public support for their opposition to state-mandated all-day kindergarten, Carroll County school officials held a town meeting last night to talk about the program's $7 million price tag and an alternative they've proposed to enroll in a full-day kindergarten only children whose test scores indicate they need extra schooling.

Those who spoke up at the sparsely attended meeting at the Gateway alternative school near Westminster mostly agreed with school board members and administrators who object to the state requirement that every kindergartner in Maryland be enrolled in an all-day program by the 2007-2008 school year.

"You're saying what I want to hear. Who do I write to? What do I do to help you?" asked Mike Jones, whose 2-year-old son - the youngest of his four children - would be required to attend full-day kindergarten at Hampstead's Spring Garden Elementary if state law is not changed.

Listing his elder children's academic accomplishments - straight A's, advanced placement courses and honor roll recognition - Jones said he doubted that swapping an all-day kindergarten class for their half-day program would have given them more of a boost with their education.

He also complained that the $4.8 million school officials say they will need to build extra classrooms to accommodate the full-day program will do nothing for elementary schools' bathrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums - all of which "are already overloaded."

"It will really reduce the quality of education," said Jones, one of 10 residents who attended the meeting with three school board members, three central office administrators, three principals and the local teachers union president.

School board President Susan G. Holt emphasized that Carroll officials support the idea of all-day kindergarten and agree that some children need the extra schooling full-day programs provide to better prepare them for first grade. Nearly 80 kindergartners are enrolled this year in all-day programs at three Carroll County elementary schools.

But Holt said they object to the state requiring all school systems to provide the program for all children without providing enough money to pay for the additional classroom space, teachers and supplies that the expanded program would need.

Annual costs of doubling the kindergarten program would be about $2 million, while the county would have to shell out about $4.8 million of taxpayers' dollars to cover one-time costs, school officials told parents last night.

When an attempt to win a county exemption from the General Assembly during the last legislative session failed, school system and delegation leaders changed tactics.

School officials arranged a meeting with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and are working on the third draft of a proposal discussed with her about a month ago that would allow the Carroll school system to enroll in all-day kindergarten only children whose test scores indicate they struggle with basic skills that are the foundation for kindergarten instruction.

Although Carroll Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has said the school system would likely also have to welcome into full-day programs any children whose parents choose a full-day program over the traditional half-day one, school administrators at last night's meeting said that would not be the case.

Carroll school board member C. Scott Stone has characterized Maryland's education chief as "receptive to the idea that we could establish criteria to identify students who could benefit from full-day kindergarten."

Parents and teachers who attended last night's meeting got the first look at those criteria in what school district administrators are calling the "full-day kindergarten alternate implementation action plan." The proposal calls for spending $50,000 on school-readiness tests that would assess pre-schoolers' phonemic awareness, letter identification, ability to hear sounds in words, concepts about print, math skills and social and personal behavior.

While school system officials continue their behind-the-scenes efforts, the county's legislative delegation is talking about introducing a new, more broadly written bill next year that would return more control to local school boards over what they say should be local - rather than state - decisions.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. also addressed the issue at a recent dinner with legislative leaders, which a spokesman for the governor said should set the stage for discussions about all-day kindergarten into next year's General Assembly session.

School officials told parents that it is important for them to write to their legislators and other state officials in opposition to the kindergarten requirement, sharing the stories that they detailed last night.

Dee Raley has three children, the youngest of whom would be through kindergarten before Carroll County's all-day program would begin. She told school officials about her eldest son who finished first grade reading on a fifth-grade level.

"Would I want him in full-day so he could learn more and be smarter?" Raley asked. "The answer is no, because he's 5 and I want him to have a chance to be a kid."

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