South Kitsap School District officials have changed course.
Superintendent Michelle Reid announced April 28 that tuition-free, all-day kindergarten would be offered throughout the district during the 2015-16 school year.
That comes one year earlier than district officials previously expected. In early April, interim assistant superintendent Bev Cheney expected tuition-free, all-day kindergarten to be offered at seven elementary schools. Three other elementary schools — Mullenix Ridge, South Colby and Sunnyslope — were expected to offer it for $200 per month, or $100 per month for families that qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch.
“The proposed legislative budget impact numbers have been studied — and as a result, I am confident in recommending to the [school board] that we fully fund all schools for all-day kindergarten for the coming 2015-16 academic year,” Reid said. “I believe that while there is some risk in making this decision prior to the final legislative gavel, I think every day we delay this decision, parents in our community are making plans for their children for the coming year and we want them to choose our amazing schools.”
Reid first announced a three-year phase-in plan to implement all-day kindergarten in March 2014. When school opened later that year, the program was implemented at SKSD’s five Title I elementary schools: Burley-Glenwood, East Port Orchard, Olalla, Orchard Heights and Sidney Glen. Schools where at least 40 percent of the students are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch receive Title I designation.
At the time, Reid said finances were the impetus for a gradual pace.
She said the all-day kindergarten program required the district to hire 7.5 teachers at a cost of $536,000 during the 2014-15 school year. Reid said she expected about half of that cost to be covered by the Learning Assistance Program, Title I funds and other state grants.
But when she introduced the plan in March 2014, Reid said it was a necessary expense.
She said the implementation of Common Core State Standards, which are part of a multi-state effort to develop common educational goals in addition to assessments that can be utilized to compare schools and students from around the country, has resulted in the continuous expansion of the kindergarten curriculum. Despite that, instructional time for kindergartners in SKSD remained at 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Advocates say that children who enroll in all-day kindergarten programs perform better academically and socially. Cheney said all-day kindergarten has given students time for more “purposeful and meaningful play.” She said an example of that is students working together constructing a building out of blocks.
“It’s not only working on ensuring our students have a strong foundation, but also that we’re nurturing those skills they need to collaborate with each other,” she said. “They use their thinking skills.”
When she rolled out the plan, Reid also noted that there were about 61 kindergarten students living within SKSD boundaries that opted to attend school in other districts. During the 2012-13 school year, Reid said there were about 50 kindergartners going elsewhere.
Reid suspected that is because several neighboring school districts already offer all-day kindergarten at no charge, some parents elect to send their students to those schools. As those students develop friendships at their new schools, she said, they often choose to remain there.
The state uses a 10-month enrollment average — September to June — to calculate funding for schools. Tracy Patterson, assistant superintendent for business and operations, said the state provides about $5,700 in state funding per full-time equivalent (FTE) student.
While Cheney did not have figures for how many kindergarten students who live within the district’s boundaries elected to attend school elsewhere this year, she noted that SKSD’s enrollment at that grade level has spiked. The district had 8,458.71 FTE enrolled through February.
All-day kindergarten first was introduced as a tuition-based program in 2010 at Olalla and was added the following year at Manchester.
Reid said there will be one half-day kindergarten program offered at a to-be determined location during the upcoming school year.