POULSBO — Full-day kindergarten will be free and half-day kindergarten will be eliminated in the North Kitsap School District beginning next school year.
Some parents are concerned that six hours of school is too long for a 5-year-old, and without a half-day option one parent said she may opt to homeschool her child.
Free full-day kindergarten will be offered at all NKSD elementary schools. The school board approved free full-day kindergarten with a 4-1 vote at its Jan. 8 meeting.
The district is projecting a cost of $854,484 to offer the free classes. That is a jump from the projected cost of $420,207 this year.
“Every time we decrease tuition rates, participation [in full-day kindergarten] goes up,” school board President Beth Worthington said.
Since being elected to the school board about one year ago, Worthington said full-day kindergarten has often been a topic of conversation between board members.
The district offered 10 sections of full-day kindergarten for 2014-15, an increase from eight in 2013-14. That number will increase with the elimination of half-day classes.
In December, the district reported an average enrollment of 22.4 students per full-day class. According to a district report in October, every school had at least one full-day kindergarten class with 20 or more students — except Wolfle, which had two classes with fewer than 20 students in each.
The district counted a total of 415 kindergarteners in October.
The school board voted to lower full tuition for the 2014-15 school year from $2,290 to $1,500. Partial tuition, for those who qualify, was lowered from $1,145 to $750.
Because there will be no student tuition, the expectation is that more teachers, classified staff and materials will be needed, and the district is expecting its costs to double.
The board voted for free full-day kindergarten over reducing tuition in half. The cost to the district for reduced tuition would have increased to a projected $559,707, according to district documents.
How funding is allocated for the program has not been finalized, according to Jenn Markaryan, school district spokeswoman. The district will wait to see what funding comes from the state during the Legislature’s budget session.
“I am excited to offer this opportunity to our community,” Superintendent Patty Page said in a released statement. “Supporting [full] day kindergarten for all students until the state does is a commitment to our future.”
The target year for the state to fully fund full-day kindergarten is 2017-18 in all school districts. Gov. Jay Inslee included funding full-day kindergarten in House Bill 2776, along with class-size reduction for grades K-3 and full funding of materials, supplies and operating costs. However, the district does not yet know how much it will receive from the state.
By cutting half-day kindergarten, the district could realize savings in transportation. Busing all students twice per day, instead of two different sections twice per day, could save the district an estimated $200,000, Worthington said.
With an additional $434,277 being spent on kindergarten, it could mean reductions elsewhere, Page said during the Jan. 8 meeting. Full-day kindergarten could be fully funded by the state, she said.
“We can make it work,” Page said.
The benefits for teachers and students include being able to spend more time on subject matter. Brenda Ward, director of elementary education, told the school board there are 149 education standards for a kindergartener to learn.
However, there has been concern expressed over having 5-year-old children in school for a longer period of time.
During the Jan. 8 meeting, board member Scott Henden said not all parents will want their kindergarten-age children in school all day. The idea of parents picking up their student halfway through the day was discussed but, logistically, might complicate things. Ward said taking a student out of school early would mean missing out on learning; the student would need to make up that missed subject matter.
During the meeting, Worthington said she talked with residents before she was elected to the board, and some wanted the district to keep a half-day option. There was a “strong message that they did not want to send their kids to full-day kindergarten,” she said.
Diana Frazier, a parent of a Poulsbo Elementary student, is concerned her daughter will be in school too long. The family has enjoyed Poulsbo Elementary, but may switch to homeschooling with the change, she said.
Elementary school begins at 9:20 a.m. and ends at 3:50 p.m.
Frazier, whose family lives in a neighborhood off Lincoln Road — not far from Noll Road where Poulsbo Elementary is located — said her daughter has a 40-minute bus ride. The bus stops near their house at about 4:30 p.m., she said.
“Your kids are up and running an entire day like an adult,” Frazier said. “They’re 6 [years old].”
Frazier and her siblings were homeschooled. Though the family was “pleasantly surprised” with Poulsbo Elementary, she said homeschooling might be the only option now.
Kindergarten registration for the 2015-16 school year begins March 2. The district encourages families to register at their neighborhood elementary school. To register, children must be 5 on or before Aug. 31.