Funding the issue for all day kindergarten

Local school boards will have the final vote to confirm if school districts want to implement a full-day kindergarten program, according to a bill passed in the General Assembly and sent to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner last week.

Originally, Senate Bill 251 would have mandated a full-day program by the 2008-09 school year, but an amendment left the final decision to local officials. According to a state release, the state will pay two-thirds of the estimated 31.9 million in annual expenses and 52.7 million in one-time capital costs, leaving the rest for local taxpayers.

Indian River School District Finance Director Patrick Miller said a referendum would be needed to cover the cost of salaries, supplies and construction if Indian River’s board approved a full-day program.

“It is going to be a substantial financial concern,” Miller said. “It’s going to require outlay of local taxes.”

Those taxes, Miller said, would cover the impending cost of new construction to accommodate additional students, supplies for extra classrooms and teaching salaries.

The district currently employs 21 kindergarten teachers, according to its personnel office. That number would have to double if Indian River approved a full-day program. The 21 teachers in place are currently teaching one set of kindergartners in the morning and another in the afternoon, taking their contract-promised planning time in between.

Specialists would have to be hired to secure that contractual planning time for teachers in a full-day program, according to Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting and Supervisor of Elementary Instruction Tracy Hudson.

Hudson — a former reading specialist at Frankford Elementary when that school started its pilot all-day program — said that Frankford used Title I funding to free up monies elsewhere to pay music and art teachers for kindergarten.

Lord Baltimore Elementary School and Southern Delaware School of the Arts don’t have such funding, according to Hudson. Hiring additional “specialists” would require more local funding in such schools.

Still, Hudson added, she is in favor of an all-day program

“We found that at Frankford Elementary it was very helpful,” she said. “We had to adjust first-grade curriculum because students were so much better prepared. When you have a half-day program, you really don’t have the academic time you need.”

Hudson continued, saying that full-day programs save parents money that would have been spent on day-care costs.

“Because so many parents work … it was very popular,” Hudson said of Frankford’s pilot program, which was funded mostly by a state grant.

Implementing a full-day program kindergarten program in all Indian River schools, however, has its “hurdles,” according to Bunting, who assumed the superintendent position on July 1. Rather than pondering the academic benefits of offering a full-day program, implementing one might ultimately become solely a funding issue.

“It is going to be expensive,” Bunting said. “We would need extra teachers, space. It is a far more complicated thing than it might appear to be.”