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We’re live at the Hopewell Valley Regional School District school board meeting. We’ll be covering anything that has to do with the change in kindergarten programing so stay tuned and refresh this page to follow it in real-time.

School board president acknowledged that many individuals are in attendance regarding full day / half day kindergarten.  There will be a budget presentation and some of the questions posed about budget issues for full day / half day kindergarten. The board also acknowledges that the overriding concern is accessibility / equal access to kindergarten and they will not be able to fully addressed that until they get deeper into the budget process.

— Budget Presentation Here — presented by Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith

Kinderarten in NJ

  • 80 school districts in NJ have half day kindergarten; 36 are DFG I or J (many offer a corresponding half-day program)
  • 16 have both full day and half day programs (several with tuition)
  • kindergarten is not mandatory in NJ

Current K extension #s: 100 students out of 195 in K extension (51%)

BT – 17 out of 44 (38%)

HE – 18 out of 41 (43%)

SB – 42 out of 59 (71%)

TG – 23 out of 51 (45%)

“Current extension program does have an academic component. It does have a curriculum,” said Superintendent Smith. “They have growth in free-play and things like that but it is an academic program where students are reading and doing math as well as reinforcement of information learned during the day.”

Projected K #s by demographers

  • 171 for K in 2015-2016
  • 180 in 2016-2017

Based on estimates to move to full day kindergarten — the difference between 5 current staff members to projected 11 staff members.

6 teachers @ $75,000 = $450,000 and 6 paras @ $45,000 = $270,000 –> $720,000

Capped by government by not increasing budget by 2%.

Other programs that the district charges for: 1) summer economics class; 2) PEECH preschool; 3) option II classes at CHS; 4) transportation within 2 miles; 5) wood shop projects; and 6) athletics and co-curricular (but has been eliminated this year)

Reminders about the process — this is the introduction to the budget; the next big milestone is the governor’s budget address and release of state aid that helps hone the budget and knowing the hard numbers that the district will be looking at; between March and April there are opportunities for discussions and make changes to the budget; in April the budget will be approved by the state to be implemented in September.

Talked about competing interests of those who want 1/2 day kindergarten, those who want full day, and those who do not want their taxes to increase (65% of taxpayers in the district do not have children in the school system).

Lisa Wolff: “Studies show that early education, like kindergarten, is helpful later on. This is one of the reasons why one might want full day kindergarten. But the district charges for preschool also… Would like to see at some point no-charge full-day kindergarten but the issue for charging for preschool is similar in that those who can afford it can have it.” Superintendent Smith clarified that if a child has special needs, the child goes to preschool for no charge.

(Dr Smith thanked the school board for the time spent and dedication in honor of School Board Recognition Month.)

Wolff: “Going to have public comment. The board is interested in hearing what the public says but the issues will not be discussed by the board right now.” They need to continue with the budget matters before they proceed with addressing the issues.

Public Comment

Nancy Andreski: Thanks the board for the excellent education, for reading the open letter and for Dr. Smith meeting with her. From the website, the board of education exists to provide free education … Hopewell needs to offer full day kindergarten too. The effective way to implement high quality education is to provide children enough time and flexility. Half day does not allow for any of this. The future planning committee recommended full-day kindergarten. There is space. Understands that there will be additional costs for staffing and supplies. Even if you take out the fixed cost, the percentage is low for something so important. HVRSD is creating a disparity and two-tiered system by having separate half and full day kindergartens. Creating inequity. Raises issues of unequal access of education and cited other states that have decided that unequal kindergarten education is not legal. Wants to know why parents have to pay $4000 for this.

Maris Enroth: Has students in the district. Talked about the district’s success. The times are changing with working parents and a core curriculum that requires children to master more skills. Although first grade teachers “meet the children where they are,” the half-day students will be competing with full-day kindergartens in the classroom in first grade. Talked about a free full-day kindergarten in Princeton/West-Windsor and some districts offering free pre-K. Spoke of the bill before the assembly requiring full-day kindergarten. “What district do you know of that does not have full day kindergarten currently?” Spoke of how a full-day kindergarten program would attract students who are being sent to private schools. It also makes the area less attractive for single-parents families and those who might not be able to afford…. english as a second language… and the ability for students to meet the common core standards. “Charging parents through taxes and then again through a tuition fee is unconscionable.” Talked about the huge impact of $400/month.

Andy Yadamiec: Spoke about his experience of dealing with budgets professional and said that the district needs to prioritize. Doesn’t understand how they cannot find the money in the budget. Full day kindergarten is the way to go and there should be equal access to everyone. It is a burden to make people pay $4000 per year.

David Berez: Thanked the district and Dr. Smith. Repeated that the points made are great. Things that how we get to full-day program is important. Has not seen anyone who is not in support of the full-day kindergarten. Wants to know data to show that the tiered system is okay — there is no good option for a tiered program that creates a split community. If we end up with the unfortunate tiered system, he worries that there will be class actions. Thinks that the 2% cap is not accurate — says that he thinks it is a “soft cap” and it is not there to cap kid’s education and it can be extended.  Also thanked Nancy Andreski. Reminds the district that they are representing constituents, not their own personal preferences.

Adam Andreski: Spoke about his history of living and working in the Township. Notices that the curriculum has changed significantly and that half-day program is not enough time. While 65% of the residents in the district do not have children in the system, if HVRSD this will benefit all residents — it benefits the next generation and decreases longer-term costs and makes HV a desirable location. “It is a necessity for them to have the full day.”

Brandon Floy: Wants his child to go to kindergarten for full-day. 1) is there a process for tuition assistance (how much is there available and how does this fit into the budget); 2) 51% students are doing extension which might be capped by supply, not demand — wants to know the % of families who would do full-day kindergarten if people can afford it

Alison Larthey: Concerned about the transition for her daughter from a full-day preschool to a half-day kindergarten. Hopes that the transition to kindergarten goes well and wants the district to consider full-day kindergarten as part of the plan.

Trisha Simpson: The district mentioned that there would be a reduction in staff because of declining enrollment. Wants to know how many and whether that would be offset by fall-day kindergarten to not burden the district with additional costs. (Lisa Wolff said that this is something that they need to figure out during the budget process.)

Girish Pandit: Talked about class-size; also about the fixed expenses — wants to know whether this is a prediction or current; activity fees; upgrading technology thinks this is important; expand; wants the district to save rain water.

Teresa Gadsby: Says that the timeline for half-day kindergarten is under 3 hours — it is not really 1/2 day. In 3 hours, there is only so little time to get things done. The amount of content stuffed into this short amount of time is immense and the day is not half of the regular school day.

Public Comment Closed

Comments:

Lisa Wollf: We appreciate you coming out. The board believes it is important for the public to provide us with input. While some of the meetings are hard, we stepped out for those hard meetings and it is important to have a full discussion. It wouldn’t be helpful at all to rubber stamp all the decisions. <<Applause.>>

Dollard: We have agreed as a group to pursue full-day kindergarten. The issue is just how to pay for it.

Wolff: One specific item brought up is a new topic and will ask the business administrator to address it — the suggestion that the 2% cap is a soft cap.

Colavida: There are very few ways to extend the 2% cap: 1) by health benefit waiver …and 2) maybe referendum… second questions are limited by the commission of education (it is a second spending plan / second question…  but that happens in November). In year’s past there were second questions about enrollment and capital projects. In reality, the cap on education is very much limited to 2%.

Wolff: This district is setting a precedent for starting early and being transparent. Points this out b/c Dr. Smith spoke of this last week because he didn’t want to let kindergarten registration start without giving parents a heads up that things might be changing.

Smith: We wanted to start the conversation. We have a history of starting kindergarten registration when we return from winter break.

Wolff: Thanks everyone for their time. Questions will be answered through the budget process. This is not over. The board strongly likes the idea of full-day kindergarten and are looking to improve the offering the district has and this is just one additional way.

Public Comment

Nancy Andreski: Really needs to let the board know that in her household that decisions made about money are made carefully. She doesn’t want to write a check for something that she doesn’t know what she is writing the check for. “I cannot commit to paying $4000 for something” that isn’t clearly defined yet. You cannot compare the 50% to what will happen next year. I would have been someone who would have sent their child to half-day kindergarten but with the current pilot program, she firmly believes her child should go for full day. The current numbers do not reflect possible enrollment projections and interest.

Marisa Enroth: Thanked the board. And reiterated what Nancy touched about — you cannot compare the full-day kindergarten with the extension. There are certain common core goals that need to be met and therefore the extension education is not the same. Wrote a $400 check and not without hardship but does not qualify for need-based assistance. The fee-based items listed are not comparable to full-day kindergarten.

Andy Yadamiec: Works in finance and encourages the district, as they prioritize, to disclose the criteria used to make the decisions — ranking the programs based on goals and objectives.

David Berez: Thanks the board for being in support of full-day kindergarten in theory. Understands that this is about where the money comes from but thinks that the money is there because this is not a needy school district as a whole. Says that full-day kindergarten is more important than wood-shop. Has a question about the 65% of the individuals who do not have children — where are they? Why are they not in attendance? (Bruce Gunther says that two are on the board.) Wants to know how the district polls the contingency to assess whether taxpayers are truly opposed to increasing taxes for increase education costs. Asks for imperial data.

Tricia Simpson: Says that she went online and took a sample third grade PARCC sample test online this week and thought it was very challenging.  Talked about the readiness required for the PARCC test and knows that the environment that the district is under is huge. Thinking about the rigor that goes into curriculum (read today that Flemington is moving to full day kindergarten) and with this attention to the PARCC testing and all the elements that goes into this and how it effects the teacher evaluations — wants the district to look into how full-day kindergarten will help make the teachers more effective.

Meeting adjourned.
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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, and a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, photographing mushrooms, and misguided adventures in random hobbies. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), serves on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, and holds the elected position as the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Municipal Chairwoman.

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