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D28 weighs the costs of full-day kindergarten

Northbrook School District 28 is trying to cover all its bases when discussing how to implement a full-day kindergarten program.

At the Dec. 15 meeting, the board members agreed that a full-day kindergarten has its draws, but they didn’t always agree on how to fund project.

The board examined the future projections of cost, using money that is estimated to be received through the 2015 tax levy, delineating expected salary increases, the Northbrook Court Property Tax Appeal settlement payment over the next three years—a measure in which District 28 is expected refund a large sum of money up front in exchange for more funding on related properties—non-capital equipment, professional development and curriculum, operations and maintenance contingency, and additional payments for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).

The district also took into consideration the consumer price index (CPI) and how it drives their revenue, applying what they know historically about the tax levy extension using two scenarios—a shorter-term average, valued at 2.2 percent over five years, and a 12-year average, valued at 1.7 percent.

“What the projections do is look at the budget as far as spending, so we looked at a recent history of the contingency, what we actually expended,” said Jessica Donato, chief school business official. “Last year we transferred $190,000 from the contingency, so we felt a $350,000 reduction moving forward would be a good estimate.”

D28 superintendent Dr. Larry Hewitt said he supports the idea of looking for tradeoffs, in an effort to start a full-day kindergarten program, considering how challenging it is to project the future.

“We can’t look 3, 4, 5 years out and latch on and say, this is definitely going to be our fund balance,” Hewitt said. “So, my point is simply this: if whatever decision is made (regarding full-day kindergarten) and if the CPI is less than 1.7 percent for an average and we don’t like what it’s doing to the fund balance, then we make some decisions along the way to correct that.”

He said he’s not advocating for a higher fee structure, but there are options they have moving forward including some reductions of certain areas and programs.

“We’ve done some really good things with Spanish instruction and math interventions to help kids,” Hewitt said. “So, all of that has helped bring our fund balances down, but I think they’re all very valuable. We can adjust if we need to. I don’t want you to feel trapped or feel that somehow we make a decision now that we’re locked in with our current program.”

Board member Anthony Forchetti said he supports full-day kindergarten, but fears the district would limit itself down road if they implemented it considering some of the other types of expenses that are going to be difficult to sustain.

“There’s going to be inequity and imbalance in all these different scenarios, whether it’s tuition or no tuition, waivers or no waivers, full-day or extended-day,” Forchetti said. “These are all the types of things we have to lay out and overarching all this are all the financial implications.”

Hewitt agreed with Forchetti regarding his view on the current state of the district, reiterating what it means to implement a full-day program, knowing they have other obligations to attend to.

“I would not advocate cutting any programs in order to institute a full-day kindergarten,” Hewitt said. “I think you look at an IMRF expenditure if that’s where we need to do less. I think you look at some of the contingencies. I think you look at items that don’t have a direct impact on kids and staff and programs that we offer.”

Board member Tracy Katz Muhl, a board member, pointed out research from a study conducted by the RAND Corporation, suggesting why there may be limitations to introducing a full-day kindergarten program, one of them being a failure to adjust other curriculum to account for it.

“And that’s sort of what I think in many way has happened with this full-day kindergarten,” she said. “Nobody’s really experimenting yet with what and how you’d want to tweak it.”

Katz Muhl said school officials have done well in terms of academic instruction and programming over the years, saying they’ve always been a “pioneering district.”

Hewitt agreed saying they have a responsibility to lighten the load that teachers’ hold on their backs.

“We’re pretty teacher focused right now,” Hewitt said. “We got reading lessons we have to get to, we got math lessons we have to get to, we have to get them to a certain point where we can hand them off to first grade. There’s less time for that, I would say. I would say there is definitely less time for the kids to interact.”

He said it’s in that interaction where they build this vocabulary and they learn how to work with others

He added that there’s a rich experience that you can create, just by talking and being engaged with your kids.

Michelle Kohler, another board member, mirrored that sentiment, explaining her take on kindergarten as it’s seen today.

“I think that kindergarten has fundamentally changed and what they need in kindergarten has fundamentally changed,” Kohler said. “I think if you can wrap your head around that, it doesn’t become so much just an option.”

Kohler said the school district has a responsibility to meet kids on their level and where they’re at in today’s world.

“My kids are four and half years apart and their experiences in Kindergarten are totally different—the focus on standardized testing and the amount of time that is devoted to academics—it’s not the kindergarten that we remember when we were kids,” Kohler said. “It’s very, very different and the expectations are different. Because of that, we need to be able to respond to that.”

The School Board is expected vote on whether to introduce a full-day kindergarten for the 2016-17 calendar as early as their Jan. 26 meeting or as late as March.


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