By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — Derry parents taking advantage of public full-day kindergarten will pay $3,200 per student next fall when the program opens in its first year.
The School Board approved the new program to boost revenue during budget deliberations this fall and finalized the fee at a meeting last week.
And Derry Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon said parents are already eager to enroll.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that we aren’t getting phone calls about this right now because a lot of the local communities are asking for parents to sign up for the full-day programs,” said Hannon at a School Board meeting last Tuesday.
In addition to the free half-day kindergarten running currently at each elementary school, the full-day program will be open to students on a tuition basis.
Students will take the regular morning and afternoon school buses at no additional cost to the district, Hannon said. The School Board eliminated midday kindergarten busing in its budget proposal, saving the district almost $190,000.
And while the full-day program will allow students to participate in art, music and physical education programs, Hannon made it clear at last week’s board meeting that half-day students would not be missing out.
“There will be important social skills, thematic pieces and arts, but the definite components of our expectation in kindergarten for math and reading are not going to change, so that our parents don’t feel like they’ve been shortchanged by having their child in the public school for the half-day program,” Hannon said.
After reviewing other private full-day kindergarten programs in town, business administrator Jane Simard said most were charging about $4,500 per year.
In Salem, Simard said the full-day public kindergarten program charges $3,000 per year, with a $100 increase scheduled for next year.
With a tuition rate of $3,200 per student, Simard said, each of Derry’s 18-student full-day classes would more than pay for the cost of a kindergarten teacher. She said the average new teacher costs the district about $55,000 with salary and benefits.
And if there’s enough interest in the full-day program, Hannon said each elementary school has space for an additional full-day kindergarten class.
When district staff first proposed full-day kindergarten last fall, projections showed about $350,000 in revenue for the first year.
But Simard said the $3,200 per-student fee could generate up to $576,000 for the district if each of Derry’s five elementary schools opens two full-day programs. At capac-ity, the full-day kindergarten could serve 180 students, she said.
But School Board member Ken Linehan said he would only support the additional classrooms with the full 18student enrollment intact.
“We need to make sure that we put requirements or guidelines in place about minimum class sizes in order to fund a program, and if we don’t have enough children that it doesn’t happen,” Linehan said. “Then they just opt into the half-day program or move to another school where maybe they can get enough children to create a classroom.”
Hannon assured Linehan and the board that the second classroom would only be opened if that 18-student enrollment threshold is met, as the program is intended to be self-funded.
The board approved the $3,200 fee at last week’s meeting, with member Mark Grabowski voting against the measure. Grabowski said he thought the $3,200 rate was too low.
Enrollment will be on a first come, first-served basis.