November 9, 2010

School Board Discusses Full Day Kindergarten

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Before tackling signifi cant cuts to next year’s budget, the School Board and fiscal advisory committee on Monday discussed opening full-day kindergarten and increasing facility rental fees as ways to boost revenues.
School district staff unrolled a $72.5 million budget proposal last month that would cut $4.5 million and 75 positions districtwide as a way to make up
 for a portion of the anticipated loss of $7.1 million in state adequacy funding next year. 
The district is also slated to lose another combined $800,000 in state kindergarten and special education catastrophic aid. But during budget discussions on Monday night, Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon proposed that the district could offer full-day kindergarten to bring in an additional $300,000 next year without hiring any new staff members. 
Parents would likely pay about $3,000 per year, Hannon said, staying on par with a similar program offered in Salem and the tuition for Derry’s existing DEEP preschool program. 
Hannon estimated that at least a third of the 300 kindergarten students expected for the fall would participate and said the rest would be able to attend morning or afternoon kindergarten free of charge. And an additional 40 to 60 students who would otherwise attend an all-day private kindergarten might transfer over to the district’s program, she said. 
“What we have found over the past couple of years is that parents are struggling with that off-time,” she said Monday. “If they are in morning kindergarten, they are looking for afternoon day care and for afternoon kindergarten they need morning day care. They are looking around the community for that piece and they are paying for it.” 
Members of the school board and fiscal advisory committee generally supported the idea for further consideration, asking that a survey be given to current first-graders to see how many parents would’ve been interested in the program. 
“I think we ask the parents that didn’t participate in our kindergarten program the reason why, because by far, without seeing the numbers, I’m certain that the number one reason would be the half-day program,” said school board member Mark Grabowski. “With the day care situation, it’s just too inhibiting.” 
The two groups also weighed increasing fees charged to rent district facilities, which currently brings in more than $73,000 each year. Under the current structure, groups pay $20 per hour to rent a gymnasium and $15 per hour for a classroom. 
Local churches paid $39,497 to use school space last year, with another $21,000 coming from private day care programs and $9,651 from Derry Recreation basketball, according to Jane Simard, the district’s business administrator. 
But Simard said numerous groups currently pay nothing to use district space, including the Girl and Boy Scouts and local sports groups if at least half the team is from Derry. 
For instance, Amateur Athletic Union basketball teams rented school space more than 100 times last year without paying anything. 
“We’re charging the PTA, who do a lot and bring things to the schools, but we’re not charging the AAU that is also charging $500 for a student to be a player on the team,” Hannon said. “There’s something missing in this piece.” 
Rental fees are set by school board policy and board members Monday agreed to send the fee structure to the policy committee for review. 
District staff also initiated discussion on new fees for high school busing and student athletics, both of which received mixed reactions from the two boards. 
“I’m not sure the public’s reaction to that is worth trying, given that some people will respond that we are nickle and diming them just like the state is,” said fiscal advisory member Craig Bulkley “And maybe inclusively with all these things you might come up with $200,000, but we’re talking about (losing) $8 million.” 
Hannon said that the two boards will take up discussions about those larger budget cuts at the next joint meeting scheduled for Nov. 22. 

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