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Tuition-based full-day kindergarten a possibility for D28

A decade of decisions places Northbrook School District 28 in its current position to explore the idea of launching full day kindergarten next year. Already, West Northfield District 31, Northbrook District 27 and Glencoe District 35, among others have introduced new programs in recent years. A vote on full day kindergarten was still approaching after the Board of Education met on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Officials continued their discussions on whether to introduce the new program, examining a set of line items and reductions aggregated from financial records kept in the last two-three years, in hopes of giving the district incentive to move forward and vote.

The board members came to a consensus regarding several areas of potential cost savings to be deemed restricted, saying how it wouldn’t be beneficial. The potential measures would have applied a half an hour reduction in time for instructional aides and an added hard cap limit on classroom sizes, among others.

Despite some common views, officials for D28 couldn’t agree on how to move forward with full-day kindergarten and fund it.

Board member Carol Currie backed the idea of applying cuts to the administration position as Director of Learning and a reduction in spending for staffing review of reading specialists, seeing as how there’s consensus among the board expressing value in launching a full-day kindergarten program. She said the non-tuition model does not sit well with her despite her previous stance on the issue.

“Knowing that the option exists to not send them full-day and consequently not pay $3,000 was a relief to me,” Currie said. “I don’t think it’s fair. However, I do think the vast majority of people will participate.”

“I have changed my position on how I feel about tuition because I intensely dislike this other model and I would probably say, ‘Don’t do full-day kindergarten if this is what we would have to do to get there.’”

Board member Michael Gilmore believes D28 should charge tuition for full-day kindergarten, explaining how class size reductions and cuts in time for instructional aides, leave a projected cost savings of $196,110. He added that tuition projected tuition estimated revenues, valued at about $38,570, would fund the new program.

“It’s not that I don’t think these other things are important, but I think that districts have to… prioritize things and districts have to prioritize things as well,” Gilmore said. “For me, a full-day kindergarten program would be a priority. I also think that an argument for spreading it out among everyone is that eventually everyone will go through the program in kindergarten so everyone’s going to benefit from the kindergarten program being full-day.”

Board member Anthony Forchetti noted a concern in looking at the board’s consensus regarding items not being considered as potential reductions.

“The foundational ways that we can impact the budget we have said we really shouldn’t touch those, but now we’re left with departmental cuts and production and technologies and supplies,” he said. “As Carol pointed out, those are things you say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have a million dollar budget hole I have to figure out. Let me cut those. These are not sustainable cuts. Something like curriculum, maybe in terms of our curriculum development we’ve reached a maturity stage, where I don’t need to invest so much, so that’s a long-term expense I don’t have.”

Forchetti said supplies and technology are all short-term investments that cannot be delayed as easily, so it makes sense not viewing them as sustainable cuts.

“We built those budget items in for a reason,” he said. “I am having a hard time with the sustainable model.”

Of everything D28 is taking into account—the quality of learning, the benefits of play, community feedback, and more—a number of financial implications overlay that beg reason to have caution.

At the regular school board meeting in December 2015, officials approved an item allowing D28 to come to an agreement on budgeting monies valued at $300,000, or 15 percent expected contribution, toward the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

School officials and staff have noted a number of capital improvements that are pending but won’t require immediate action – one of the main areas of need being carpeting and issues related to asbestos.

In order to fund full day kindergarten for next school year, D28 projects they would lose about $5,000 in estimated tuition revenue generated per student, since they would no longer take in funding for extended-day kindergarten.

D28 superintendent Dr. Larry Hewitt pointed out some positive and negative impacts should they decide to move forward with plans to introduce a full-day kindergarten program and how it might affect the board in years to come.

“Through the years, the district has taken good care of its finances,” he said. “We have never been the kind of district that lives on the edge… and just spending what they take in.”

Hewitt said when they’ve made renovations or updates to facilities in the past, they didn’t have to ask for a tax increase because officials held off on small projects so they could bundle them together and get a really good price on them.

“I think there’s some hesitancy to take the option away from future Boards of Education,” he said. “There’s some questions about how that might impact negatively the long-term financial situation.”

School officials will have the option of voting on the program and funding proposal at the next Board of Education meeting on Feb. 23.

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