By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 1 of the story recapping the most recent meeting of the USD No. 480 Board of Education Monday evening. This story covers the approval of all-day kindergarten throughout the district. Part 2 will discuss other aspects of the meeting, including technology and the extension of board members’ terms.
Teachers on hand at the most recent meeting of the USD No. 480 school board Monday evening had reason to celebrate as the board, after much discussion, approved the implementation of district-wide, all-day kindergarten.
The issue of implementing all-day kindergarten had been discussed while the bond issue was being worked out. In a unanimous motion Monday evening, the board approved all-day kindergarten beginning in the fall of 2017.
“I’m excited, we’ve been fighting for this for many years,” kindergarten teacher Chrystal Watson said. “And now that we won’t have 40 students, but 20 students, we’ll be able to have more individual time with students, students who are struggling and need more intervention. We can also include more things, because we don’t really teach science or social studies, and we can start teaching that and not push them so hard to learn all that information at one time.”
The final conversation that led to the program’s implementation brought out a lot of back-and-forth banter between the board members. A particular concern was funding of the program at the local level and the state level, with Governor Sam Brownback scheduled to release a preliminary budget Wednesday.
“Right now, we have money in the Local Option Budget (LOB), that if you decide to pass all-day kindergarten, and funding stayed the same as it was, or close, today, we’d have to jump into part of that Local Option Budget to fund this additional increase,” Director of Business Jerry Clay said. “We have that authority. Now, who’s to say what will change as all that goes forward with the state. We could potentially max out our Local Option Budget, and that’s what a lot of other districts who have all-day kindergarten have already done, they’ve maxed that out to fund all-day kindergarten.”
“To me, guys, what we do here today, it’s a leap of faith because we are saying, as a board, ‘we believe all-day kindergarten is important enough that we’re going to take the opportunity to have it,’” Board Member Delvin Kinser said. “Even if it comes to us raising the LOB two mills, that’s an investment of our public into the importance of all-day kindergarten, and that’s our stance if we approve this tonight.”
Even with those remarks from Clay, and the fact that the mill levy had actually decreased based on the budget proposed in August, funding was still a concern for some of the board members. The board and the district administration will be exploring many options for funding, discussions of which will come up in future meetings.
“I’m going to be the devil’s advocate here, I’m not at all opposed to all-day kindergarten, that’s not at all what I’m saying,” Board Member Matt Friederich said. “But a concern of mine is, didn’t we just hear at the last board meeting about state funding and potential million-dollar shortfalls, and how that could affect us? That’s where I’m trying to think, and I would like to throw out the LOB is not the only option. I’m just arguing this because I want us to have the goods and bads of this conversation. I’m all for this, we just need to as a board dig in and figure out how we’re going to do this.”
“We just wanted to show … if you decided to do that, that’s one option to do it, but we will also look into other options and see what we can find,” Clay said.
Another formidable challenge will be to fill the potential positions, according to Hickert. According to a handout given at the meeting, there will be an estimated nine teachers to accommodate the classes, based on current enrollment and class sizes. Recruitment and researching potential candidates for the positions will begin basically immediately.
The teachers on hand at the meeting expressed excitement upon the program’s unanimous approval. Those present gave several benefits of having all-day kindergarten, including the students having more time to learn, and the availability of teachers to teach more throughout the full-day instead of trying to get everything in a half-day.
“I’m excited, I feel like it’ll be more relaxed, and that will be good for the students and the teacher,” kindergarten teacher Melissa Miller said. “Having a longer time, I think will be beneficial to the teacher because we’ll have more time to teach. It’ll also give our students the opportunity to work on better communication and social skills, because we only have a few hours during the day.”
“With the extra time, we’ll have more time to build better relationships with our students,” kindergarten teacher Bethany Stoney said. “Not that we don’t do that now, but the longer you’re with them, the better you’ll get to know them and their families. I would like to thank the board for approving this, since it will benefit everyone.”
Members of the board also expressed excitement of all-day kindergarten being approved.
“I think it’s a great opportunity, it shows our commitment to the kids and the community,” Board President Stewart Cauble said. “It’s a promise we made as a board when we started the bond process, and it’s also showing we believe in our kids and their ability to grow and develop into great human beings. It’s a wonderful thing for us to be able to do.”
“It’s exciting for the community,” Kinser added. “Our community is ready to see our students excel. We’ve taken the time and effort to build new schools to address the overcrowding issues. The next step is to lay the groundwork for our kids to build on their education from now to the time they graduate.”