All-day, everyday kindergarten approved

An all-day, every-day kindergarten program in the Princeton School District  become reality Tuesday with a school board vote on a kindergarten financing package.

The Princeton School District’s Finance Committee brought a proposal to the school board Tuesday night.

The finance committee, comprised of Jeremy Miller, Eric Minks and Chuck Nagle, brought a $350,000 plan to the full board that included taking $200,000 from a district savings account for school fixtures, furnishings and equipment and another $150,000 from the general fund earmarked for basic operations of the school district, which includes the salaries of teachers, custodians and paraprofessionals, and items such as utilities.

School administrators will be taking a hard look at the staffing levels in its four school buildings and could be looking at staff reductions to help fund the needs of the new kindergarten program.

The lack of an all-day, every-day kindergarten program has been attributed in part to a decline in student enrollment in the district. School board members and administrators believe the program plays a major roll in the future health of the school district.

“It’s a good thing for the kids and a long-term strategy for improving our enrollment,” Interim Superintendent Julia Espe said of all-day, every-day kindergarten.

What impact does the kindergarten program have on the school district? A snapshot of a situation a week ago paints a telling picture.

Both Milaca and Zimmerman (in the Elk River School District) offer free all-day, every-day kindergarten and are directly competing with Princeton for its students.

In a 24-hour period last week, the school district was notified by two families that they were leaving the school district through open enrollment because the district doesn’t offer a free all-day, every-day kindergarten program. Between the two families, seven students are leaving the district, Business Manager Michelle Czech said.

Here’s where the situation becomes concerning. The school district receives approximately $6,000 of state aid per student. In the case of the seven students, that amounts to $43,000 per year. One lost student can cost the district $78,000 over the life of a student, if you multiply the $6,000 over a 13-year, K-12 school career.

Committee member Miller called adding an all-day, every-day kindergarten program a “no-brainer” because it allows the district to compete with the schools around it and also allows the district to reduce the achievement gap between its students – something that education research shows an enriched education program provides.

The finance committee met with Espe and Czech for a combined four hours on March 7 and March 12, to hash out the financing proposal brought to the board.

Through those discussions, committee members learned that the district could be facing a budget deficit of as much as $850,000 at the end of this school year and could be entering the 2013-14 budget-planning process with a projected deficit of $1.2 million.

Committee members didn’t take that data lightly and acted carefully in formulating a plan that would take even more financial resources from the district.

“This is one of the biggest decisions this committee will ever make,” Minks said.

“But it’s a decision that will have an immediate and direct effect on the education of our kids,” he said.

The committee was mindful of Espe’s opinion that it was a critical time to move forward with an all-day, every-day kindergarten program because this is the time of year in which families are enrolling students in kindergarten for next year, which means decisions on whether a family leaves or stays in the Princeton district are being made now.