Full-day kindergarten coming this fall

It’s official: Rochester Community Schools will convert to full-day, every-day kindergarten for the 2012-13 school year.

Despite the financial difficulties facing all Michigan schools, the board of education voted unanimously Jan. 9 to make the change. Parents of prospective kindergartners are invited to Kindergarten Information Night Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in the Stoney Creek High School auditorium to learn more.

The move has been impatiently awaited by some parents, who see an educational benefit for their children. Some parents had hoped the board would preserve the half-day option to give parents the option to decide what is best for their children.

The change to full-day kindergarten comes with an estimated price tag of $2.6 million the first year as the district converts spaces, purchases materials and hires staff. The change comes amid expectations that the state legislature will cut funding for half-day programs, which currently receive the same per-pupil allowance as all other grades. If that happened, the district would lose $3.7 million the first year if it did not change to the full-day schedule.

William Mull, the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Business, said the district will use a combination of efficiencies, cuts and its fund balance to cover the increased costs.

“We’re just going to have to carve it out,” he said. “We’re certainly going to be looking for any and all efficiencies. We have a pretty big predicted spending deficit next year.”

He estimated the current deficit projection at $15 million for the 2012-13 school year, but said he expects that to drop as the budget process continues.

Mull plans to ask the board at its Jan. 23 meeting for permission to seek proposals for transportation and custodial services. Just a few years ago, the district outsourced its food service but won concessions from custodial and transportation employees to keep those jobs in-house.

“It’s an attempt to get bid market prices,” Mull said. “We’ve been down this road before.”

Last April, the first-year cost of converting to full-day kindergarten was estimated at up to $1 million. Mull said the estimate has risen because the study group overlooked some benefit costs.

“Many of our kindergarten teachers are half-time,” he said. “It became evident we were saving a lot of money on employment benefit costs we hadn’t anticipated. … Frankly, we missed that the first round.”

Start-up costs also include adding para educators, buying furniture, converting spaces for classroom use, technology and books.

In its report to the board, the full-day kindergarten committee said the majority of the U.S. has full-day kindergarten; 17 Oakland County districts already offer it. They said there is research showing it boosts student achievement through eighth grade. Beyond that, there is no research, they said.

Superintendent Frederick Clark said his previous district saw its third-grade state-standardized test scores improve when students who had full-day kindergarten reached third grade.

“We came up with lots of measurables … which showed outstanding gains from one year to the next,” he said.

The district is hoping full-day kindergarten will also increase enrollment, which began dropping in 2007 when Holy Family Regional School in Rochester started offering full-day kindergarten. Mull said six neighboring districts, including Troy, expect to add full-day kindergarten this fall.

“If it becomes law, it becomes a slam dunk,” he said.

Last year the Michigan House and Senate passed different versions of a bill that (among other things) would require a full day of school for a full day of funding. So far, the two houses have not agreed to the same version of a bill.

“It will not surprise me at all if it does become law by the end of this year,” Mull said.

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