Board hears all-day, every-day pitch

Parents in the Princeton School District could be getting by fall what they have long waited for – all-day, every-day kindergarten.
A team of school district principals and administrators appeared before the school board on February 26 to make a sales pitch for all-day, every-day kindergarten. The board appeared to welcome the proposal with open arms.
Adding an all-day, every-day kindergarten program would cost the school district in excess of $350,000 per year, including transportation, according to district business manager Michelle Czech. Czech has identified state and federal funding mechanisms that can help make the program a reality.
South Elementary School Principal Greg Finck said finding space at South would not be a problem and has identified four additional rooms needed to carry out the program plan.
The need for an all-day, every-day kindergarten program in the district is twofold, administrators said.
First, the program enriches student learning and results in a more educated, well-rounded student throughout a student’s school career. Second, the school district is in the midst of an enrollment decline spurred, in part, by people opting to educate their children in neighboring districts that offer the all-day, every-day kindergarten option.
Presently, the Princeton School District offers a free every-other-day program. There are 235 students enrolled in 13 sections of kindergarten at South Elementary School, Finck said. That figure includes the 66 students enrolled in the three sections of all-day kindergarten, known in the Princeton district as K-Plus. Parents pay a fee of $2,250 for their children to attend the K-Plus program, Finck said.
Some interesting data comes out of the 2012-13 K-Plus program. A year ago, 59 percent of students in all-day, every-day kindergarten met their spring learning benchmarks by winter and 91 percent met those benchmarks by the end of the year. Just 24 percent of their counterparts in the every-other-day program met the spring benchmarks by winter. Eighty-eight percent met those benchmarks by spring, Finck said.
Emorie Colby, assistant high school principal, said improvements in literacy, math and vocabulary were three great reasons to add an enhanced kindergarten program. She also shared research, pointing out that kindergarten is vital in teaching children how to go to school and become students.
Middle School Principal Dan Voce added that all-day kindergarten helps reduce learning gaps between students in different economic groups. He said it also reduces the number of students who need remedial help or referrals to special ed.
Reducing the number of students receiving special ed services also benefits the district with cost savings realized by not providing the services, said Erin Dohrmann, special education director for the Princeton School District.
Special education is expensive and costs more than the revenue the district gets back from the government, Dohrmann said. Colby also shared research showing that there is only one documented con to running an expanded kindergarten program – and that’s cost.
“Two-thirds of the states fund all-day, every-day kindergarten. Minnesota is one of the states that does not,” Colby said.
High School Principal Pete Olson shared with the board what surrounding school districts offer in terms of kindergarten. What he found is that the school districts to the north and south of Princeton are both competing with Princeton for students.
The Elk River School District, with an elementary school in Zimmerman, will offer free all-day, every-day kindergarten during the 2013-14 school year. Milaca, to the north, currently offers free all-day, every-day kindergarten. To the west, Foley offers kindergarten three days a week, but has an every-day program for parents willing to pay tuition. Cambridge, to the east, offers every-other-day kindergarten. Parents can purchase an every-day option for $2,900, Olson said. St. Francis, to the southeast, offers free all-day, every-day kindergarten.