Schools plan suffers setback

Officials seek exemption from all-day kindergarten

Grasmick won't back measure

Passage of bill expected to be hard, not impossible

January 18, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County schools officials' attempts to ease the requirements of state-mandated all-day kindergarten have become a bit more difficult.

In a recent meeting with Carroll school board members and the county schools chief, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she will not support their efforts to pass legislation that would allow local school districts to enroll in full-day programs only kindergartners who are identified through testing as needing more help to get ready for first grade.

Although legislators in the House Ways and Means Committee indicated last year that they would not back the Carroll delegation's attempts to win a full-day kindergarten exemption without Grasmick's endorsement, Carroll school officials say they are hopeful that this year's more broadly written, statewide bill will gain lawmakers' support, despite Grasmick's opposition.

"I don't believe [the legislation] is dead on arrival without her endorsement, but our board believed it would have been a good component," said Stephen Guthrie, the school system's assistant superintendent of administration.

"It is more difficult without her endorsement," he added, "but I don't think it's impossible."

Carroll school officials have been working to reverse a key piece of the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission education reforms and give school boards across Maryland more control over all-day kindergarten programs. The initiative - allowing local officials to determine whom to enroll and how to do it - is aimed at rolling back a requirement that all Maryland kindergartners be in full-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year.

Carroll schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker and several board members met with Grasmick last fall and again this month to propose an alternative.

Concerned about the cost of a program that they believe is not needed for all children, Ecker and his staff drafted a proposal that would allow school systems to offer full-day kindergarten only to children whose test scores indicate they struggle with basic skills that are the foundation for kindergarten instruction.

Del. Susan W. Krebs of South Carroll, a former president of the Carroll school board, intends to introduce a bill this week that would allow local districts to decide whether to offer full- or half-day kindergarten programs, calculate state funding for kindergarten based on whether counties have half- or all-day programs, and require local school boards to develop assessments that test kindergartners' readiness for first grade.

Ecker and board members presented Grasmick with plans Jan. 7 that detailed exactly what types of assessments they would use. A draft shared with parents in October called for spending $50,000 on tests that would assess preschoolers' understanding of phonics and concepts about print, math skills, and social and personal behavior, along with their ability to identify letters and to hear sounds in words.

Although Grasmick told them she was impressed with the plan, she said she could not support it.

"She doesn't want to compromise on full-day kindergarten because of the educational reasons that spurred it on in the first place," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman with the State Department of Education.

Carroll leaders said Grasmick's decision will not affect their plans to lobby the General Assembly to modify the kindergarten requirement.

School board member Susan G. Holt and Guthrie, Carroll's assistant superintendent, said conversations with school board members and administrators in other counties reveal more interest in modifying the kindergarten requirement than existed last year.

A legislative aide to Krebs said the delegate plans to shop around her kindergarten bill at the State House, drumming up support and recruiting co-sponsors, as soon as the language is drafted.

"Having Dr. Grasmick support our legislation would have made life a lot easier," Holt said. "That would have, I think, provided the lock for an easy go through committees and the General Assembly, but I still am not looking at it as if we should give up."

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