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East Longmeadow School Committee adds free full-day kindergarten to budget

Date: 2/12/2015

EAST LONGMEADOW – The School Committee voted unanimously at its Feb. 5 to meeting to add free full-day kindergarten for students throughout the district into the fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget.

The motion to add free full-day kindergarten to the FY16 carried by a vote of 4 to 0.

School Committee Chair Deirdre Mailloux said committee member Gregory Thompson was unable to attend the Feb. 5 meeting, however he was in support of free full-day kindergarten as well. 

Superintendent of Schools Gordon Smith said the reason the committee chose to examine full-day kindergarten was because a 10-year bond for eight permanent  modular kindergarten classrooms at Meadow Brook Elementary School is ending this year and more funds would be available in the budget for full-day kindergarten.

A revolving account was set up to receive tuition for the district’s current full-day kindergarten program, he added. Those funds have been used to fund the kindergarten program and the wages of two teachers and one paraprofessional.

“The money in the revolving account is there for both paying the bond payments, which will end this year, and the kindergarten program itself,” Smith said. “Once the bond payment is finished, it can’t be used for anything else but the kindergarten program.

“What this allows us to do is not have a giant impact to any one fiscal year’s budget, but over the course of three years, have a smaller impact as we take [an employee from the revolving account off that account and add their wages to the operational budget,” he continued.

After the three-year period, the revolving fund would likely close, Smith said. The funds in the revolving account, somewhere in the six-figure range, would also act as seed money for the non-tuition full-day kindergarten program.

If full-day kindergarten is approved in the budget, half-day kindergarten would no longer be an option in the district, he added.

Theresa Olejarz, assistant superintendent for business, said the district would have received  $159,020 in additional Chapter 70 money this year if full-day kindergarten had been implemented on a district-wide level.

“If we do full-day kindergarten, the first change in Chapter 70 [funds] would be in FY17,” she added.

Lisa Dakin, principal of Meadow Brook Elementary School, said full-day kindergarten classrooms would consist of approximately 20 to 21 students.

“Right now with the seven full-day classes, we have an average of 19 [students] in each classroom,” she added.

A cost savings would also be gained by the implementation of free full-day kindergarten in matters of transportation, School Committee member Elizabeth Marsian-Boucher said. There would no longer be a need for mid-day bus transportation for half-day kindergarten students.

“I was always under the impression, because I was not on the committee [10 years ago], but they had always said, ‘When the bond is paid off, whoever the committee [is] would move forward with looking at free full-day kindergarten,” School Committee member William Fonseca said. “This is the time to do it. The opportunity is right here. We’re out ahead of it. I’m fully in support [of this.]”