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District cuts some funding from all-day kindergarten

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District 833 has been working hard to manage their budget and keep costs down, and this includes the heads of Community Educations' "K Plus" all-day kindergarten program.

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The K Plus program has made fairly substantial cuts to the supply budget from $1000 per classroom to $250 per classroom. There are currently 35 sections, housing nearly 700 students, at all 16 elementary schools in the district.

"Because this is a fee-based program, we try really hard to keep the costs down as best we can for parents," said Ernie Pines, District 833 Community Education director. "We looked at where we could make some cuts, where it wouldn't really hurt the quality of the program and we felt we could cut that without really making any deficits to the quality of the program."

The K Plus program costs $15 per day for anyone who wants to enroll their child in this all-day kindergarten program since the state only funds half-day kindergarten. 2008 was the first fee increase, from $14 to $15, in seven years.

The majority of the fees collected, about 50 percent, are allocated to teacher salaries and benefits. The remainder of the fees are distributed among substitute teachers, physical education, art and music opportunities, supplies, and some administrative costs.

"Best guess" on budget

Each year, the district must make a "best guess" on what the budget will be for the following year based on the estimated number of students, number of sections and teacher salaries, said Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent for elementary schools.

"When you put all those three things together, you have to make that best guess," Bernhardson said.

Community Education has been offering an all-day kindergarten option to families for nearly 15 years, and each year it has grown in popularity because it is such a beneficial alternative to half-day kindergarten, Pines said, especially for working parents, Bernhardson said.

"Instead of going to childcare, they can have their teacher be the person who is working with them," Bernhardson said. "That is just a wonderful added benefit and I think parents see this as an opportunity for growth for their child, or an opportunity to be in a really enjoyable, safe, learning environment."

Bernhardson said all-day kindergarten also has the benefits of preparing children more for the transition to first grade.

"I think the teachers do a very good job in that all kindergarteners can transition to first grade, but it's usual to see that on the first day of first grade, the K Plus kids helping the half day kids with things like lunch and recess because they experienced that," he said. "It still is a transition for all of them, but the K Plus kids have a better idea of how that school process works"

By cutting the supply budget, Pines and Bernhardson said they believed that now the all-day kindergarten would be more in sync with the half-day kindergarten programs since they don't receive such a generous supply budget.

"I was happy to have that ample supply budget while we could afford it, but that opportunity is gone," Pines said. "Plus a lot of supplies have been purchased in previous years that can be used in years to come."

Minimal impact on classroom

Much of the supply budget goes towards edibles such as milk or snacks.

Pines, and Bernhardson both believe that cutting the supply budget was necessary if they did not want to raise the cost of the program. They also believe that cutting the supply budget will not have any adverse effects on the quality of education the students will receive.

"The level of service their kids would receive would have a minimal impact if any at all in the classroom," Bernhardson said.

However, not everyone is sold on the idea that cutting the supply budget by such a substantial amount will have no adverse effects.

Recently, Pines received an e-mail from a concerned parent over the supply budget cut. The parent expressed frustration that the fees for the program did not change, but a lower percentage of the fees they pay will be going back into the classroom,

"I tried to answer his concerns as best I could," Pines said. "But sometimes an answer is not what someone wants to hear."

Pines said this was the first complaint he has heard about the K Plus program.

Pines and Bernhardson said they both believe that the vast majority of parents and students will not notice any difference in the services the K Plus program will provide.

In the future, if the economic climate remains where it is, the district may have to reevaluate the budget once again, but raising the fee would be their last resort, Bernhardson said.

"Teacher salaries aren't going to go down, but we're going to do our best to hold this where it is for as long as we can," Bernhardson said. "We'll always continue to tweak and work at it, but cost is always a factor."

For more information about the K Plus program, visit the District 833 Community Education website, http://www.cecool.com/kplus.php

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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