Kindergarteners in Durham and Middlefield will be going to school full-time this fall if voters support a budget proposal approved by the Region 13 Board of Education earlier this week.
The $35.98 million 2012-2013 school budget is headed for a referendum on May 8. (If you missed the budget presentation, click on the attached PDF)
Board members presented details of the budget, which calls for a $1.19 million increase in school spending next year — a 3.43 percent jump — during a public hearing at Coginchaug High School on Wednesday night.
"What we're hearing from parents is that it's a long overdue change," said Christina Dreyfus of Durham who was one of many to speak in favor of full-day kindergarten and the budget.
Under the budget proposal, the elimination of three elementary positions, including two by retirement, and a mid-day bus run will free up the roughly $250,000 needed to add full-day kindergarten in the fall, according to Superintendent Susan Viccaro.
"The cost moving forward, in terms of kindergarten, are no different than they would be for first grade, second grade," she said.
Several parents, including some who are teachers, said that the impending, state mandated Common Core standards make adding full-day kindergarten "imperative."
"I come to you as a consumer and the product I consume is education," said Joel Nick of Middlefield. "My daughter goes to John Lyman School and I'm a satisfied customer. And I want my youngest daughter in all-day kindergarten at John Lyman School."
"The budget that was presented is absolutely amazing for the type of rigor that we expect our students to have," another parent said.
Durham resident Rick Parmelee, an outspoken critic of the school board, said he did not support adding full-day kindergarten and felt the budget was "excessive."
"I used to hear the enrollment's growing so the budget has to go up and real estate values are going up because of the school system. Real estate values today are not what they were several years ago in this town and the enrollments are now going down and my taxes are still going up," he said. When's it going to end?"
Durham resident David Montgomery said in 20 years, spending on full-day kindergarten would balloon to $823,000.
"Compound interest is a son-of-a-gun," said Montgomery, who calculated the cost to taxpayers by using the rate of inflation. "We are setting something in motion that's gonna cost somebody else 10 or 15 years from now."
In addition to full-day kindergarten, the budget includes funding for a new district-wide website, a handfull of part-time literacy and math tutors at the elementary level and capital improvements.
One cautious parent, who said she had three children in the school system and another entering it soon, urged the the board to live up to the district's mission statement by supporting it's youngest students.
"[Full-day kindergarten] is the starting basis for not only our regular students, our middle of the road students, but it will be for our special needs and our high ability students as well," she said. "So, I ask you to continue your support of the program, because although I believe this budget is well balanced, you will be asked to cut."
Following the public hearing, the board discussed possible reductions to the budget. Board member Jeremy Renninghoff — the lone board member to vote against the budget as proposed — suggested reducing by about $10,000 the principal's salary at John Lyman Elementary School due to the upcoming retirement of current principal Karen Brimecombe.
Viccaro said it was too early to make that decision.
Board members also discussed eliminating the student activity fee, which Parmelee said had "no place in public education." Removing the fee could could be done after the budget is approved, board members said, agreeing to discuss the issue at a later meeting.
The budget will be presented during a District Meeting on Monday, May 7 at 8 p.m. at Coginchaug High School.