Schools to move ahead with full-day kindergarten planBy Mike Berger
The Canton School Committee decided last week to move forward with tuition-free, full-day kindergarten for the next school year and not to phase in the program over a period of multiple years. The main question now is how to fund the program as the committee concluded that it could not pay for the nearly $750,000 in extra costs from its operational budget.
Committee members plan to speak with selectmen as early as their next meeting (December 15) in addition to appearing before the Finance Committee. The consensus of the committee is to request a separate funding article at annual town meeting.
The approximate annual cost for the program is $743,000. The new caveat, according to School Business Manager Barry Nectow, is that additional state Chapter 70 funding will kick in during the second year of the program and return $607,956 to the town. Thereafter, if the system-wide enrollment continues to rise, the town will continue to receive the additional Chapter 70 funds and the net cost to the town would be about $136,000.
Nectow had presented three options to the committee, including eliminating tuition for full-day kindergarten, phasing in the kindergarten program over three years, or adding two modular classrooms at the JFK at a cost of roughly $1.1 million.
The options for funding the kindergarten program include increasing the operating budget through a town meeting appropriation, submitting an article on the town meeting warrant, and pursuing an operational override vote.
Nectow said the committee will need a 3.5 percent increase in the budget to cover negotiated salary increases, and if the full-day kindergarten costs are included, the schools would need a budget increase of 7 percent. Last year the schools received a 5 percent budget increase, which was the highest in recent years.
If the funding for full-day kindergarten is secured, the other issue is classroom space. Interim Superintendent Jen Henderson said classes will be tight until the new Hansen School addition is finished sometime in September or early October. “It will be tight, but we can do this,” she said.
School officials also agreed that if this plan is implemented, there would be no half-day kindergarten options offered.
About 25 parents attended the December 4 meeting and most seemed to agree with the decision, only asking questions about classroom space.
The other major news from last week’s meeting concerned the findings of the middle and high school youth risk behavior survey conducted last school year. The findings were presented by Katey Swanson, K-12 wellness coordinator, and Deb Bromfield, director of student services.
The survey is developed through the state Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parents were informed about the survey and could choose to not have their child participate. Students could also choose not to answer specific questions. A total of 436 students from GMS and 604 students from CHS participated, although on the date the questions were given, 24 percent of CHS students were absent due to field trips and senior externships.
The committee was concerned about student responses to specific questions, including one that asked whether there was a teacher or adult in the school that a student felt he or she could turn to if they had a problem. For that question, 75 percent of GMS students and 74 percent of CHS students responded in the affirmative.
Committee members were also concerned about the findings on alcohol and drug use. The state average for alcohol use for middle school students is 18 percent. According to the survey …
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