School officials seek reprieve from state mandate

Two-year fight continues against all-day kindergarten

Carroll County

August 26, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Despite a state mandate for all-day kindergarten, Carroll County school officials will continue to press for a reprieve, saying they have a record of preparing children for first grade without it.

"We're not giving up yet. We know the end is in sight, but we still have one more [General Assembly] session," board member Laura K. Rhodes said at a meeting yesterday of the school board, county commissioners and Carroll's state delegates.

Carroll school officials have been fighting the all-day kindergarten requirement - part of the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission education reforms - for nearly two years. The state Department of Education has ordered that public school systems provide all-day kindergarten by 2007. In Carroll, the expansion of kindergarten is expected to cost about $18 million.

"They can't see the forest for the trees. Many of them are running into the trees," school board member Susan Holt said. "We have all the data showing we do a good program."

Carroll school officials maintain that most of the school system's kindergartners succeed in half-day programs and that pre-kindergarten testing would help ensure that youngsters who need extra instruction to get them ready for first grade would be enrolled in full-day classes. They say they can prove, with test results, that Carroll's program works.

"If you look at the facts, if you look at the data, we're a high-performing school system," Holt said.

County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who recently attended the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City, told school board members that state education officials she spoke with there consider the all-day kindergarten issue easy to resolve.

"They say it's a simple solution. Move the fifth-graders into portables and that will create enough space for full-day kindergarten. The state mindset is there is no problem to do this," she said.

Holt, who called the mandate "bunk," said the state has been using flawed data in setting its standard for full-day kindergarten. She said research shows that by fourth grade, any educational gains are no longer evident. She and others at the meeting said local officials, not the state, should set educational standards.

"It's not about money. It's about education [needing] to be a local decision," Holt said. "Locals know what's best to boost student achievement."

Rhodes agreed, saying, "We'd be behind the initiative if the data showed our kids weren't ready for first grade, but that's not happening."

Board President C. Scott Stone, who said Carroll has been a "lone voice" in the fight against all-day kindergarten, asked Gouge whether officials from other counties had expressed concerns about the mandate at the Ocean City convention. When she said they did, he asked her to have them contact Carroll school officials in an effort to rally support.

"Smaller counties are beside themselves because they don't know how they'll pay for this," Gouge said after the meeting.

Although school officials hope to persuade state officials to exempt Carroll from the mandate, they are proceeding with plans to prepare schools for the change. During one of three meetings it held yesterday, the school board approved school construction and renovation plans to be presented in a request for state funding.

Four of the county's 21 elementary schools - Taneytown, William Winchester, Robert Moton and Cranberry Station - will house one full-day kindergarten classroom each in the fall. The plan is to add the program at four more schools next year and phase in the remaining 13 schools in 2006 and 2007.

Some schools will require additions to make room for full-day kindergartners. Others will need only renovations.

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