SWL: Parents push for free kindergarten

Above: Some Southborough parents are unhappy that Finn School is in the minority of state Kindergartens that doesn’t offer a free full day program. (Image from school website)

Southborough Wicked Local ran a story this weekend on a movement by some parents in town. The parent group is seeking free full day kindergarten.

The group met last week with Finn Principal James Randall and Superintendent Christine Johnson.

The purpose, group member Sara Carr said, is to see if free kindergarten is on the district’s radar.

“The goal is hearing about the kindergarten program in Soutborough and how other schools are transitioning to free full day kindergarten,” Carr said. “(We are) wondering what the district’s position is on free kindergarten, and if that’s something they have in their plans. If not, what can we do to start the conversation?”

Carr is a soon-to-be kindergarten parent and an educator. The research on the benefits of full day kindergarten is plenty, she said.

The majority of Southborough’s Kindergarteners are enrolled in the full day program, and it is open to all – at a price of $3,250 per year.

This puts Southborough in the minority of Massachussetts towns that doesn’t offer a free full day program.

[Note: Last year, Finn School integrated the free half day Kindergarten into full day classrooms. Now, half day students are in class with full day peers. At 11:30, when classmates head to recess, half day students go home. 

Randall explained an upside to the school committee – it allows parents to easily switch kids from half day to full day at any time during the year.]

SWL reports the administration isn’t eager to embrace a change that results in the loss of tuition fees. This year alone, that amounted to $351,000.

Now the parent group is looking into ways to mitigate that cost:

Carr said her group and administrators now plan to research what the financial burden for Southborough would be. Johnson will meet with other superintendents to talk about logistics, while Carr and her group will research grants or other funding options to support the district. They will convene again in December.

“We’re still in an exploratory stage. Finding out what total cost would be, what kinds of grants are available, and what kind of increased funding can you get from the state,” Carr said. “I think at this point it’s just us putting our feelers out.”

Although the administration is willing to explore the concept for future years, it is not on the table for the next school year.

To read the full SWL story, click here.

If you are interested in supporting the cause, you can find their Facebook page, here.

38 Comments
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Mark Ford
8 years ago

Well, it’s not free, it’s taxpayer-subsidized. Not saying I don’t support the notion, but please, let’s fix our terminology.

New Math
8 years ago

Basic Financial Research:
Lost revenue $351,000 plus new expenses of $351,000 = $702,000 swing on the blotter plus
(how many 1/2 day students convert to full day with x being the number converting to full day at $3,250)

$702,000 + x($3,250) = ????? find x and we have a quick ballpark answer what the cost will be to the taxpayers assuming $3,250 was an accurate charge

Southborough Res
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

I’m not saying I’m against the idea, but we need to make sure we accurately estimate the expenses involved. The $351,000 represents 108 students. If “tuition” were free would the number of students in the program increase? The 40b projects mentioned below – will they be adding students to this program? Will an increase in enrollment require additional teachers/space? What about buses for the increase in students?

I know all of the above are based on the assumption that enrollment would go up significantly, but I would feel better if the estimated enrollment was researched before we simply axe $351,000 from the school budget that will need to be either made up through increased taxes or cuts to other areas, simply so some parents can get something for free that others of us have willingly paid for in the past.

parent and taxpayer
8 years ago

I am being facetious but this is what will happen folks with all the special needs and more kindergarten and extended days ET. Why don’t we cut all the sports programs and arts programs so we can then further fund another year of day care for the dual earning family rather than the parents doing their God given role of teaching their children. We also pay the price with fully 50% of American boys on some mind altering ADD drug so they sit still in their seats until they are of age to really act out with serious actions to others. All we need is the schools raising the children even earlier than they are now. Parents, please stop, take responsibility for your progeny. Better yet, if you don’t want to raise your children, and you must have two incomes to make ends meet, please do not have children and make my tax dollars pay to take care of your children. We already have the highest priced school system around and the math SAT and ACT scores are below less expensive school districts because the math teachers do not know how to teach math well.

Nonsense
8 years ago

Where do you get this stuff? I’ve seen your other rants and frankly I can’t figure out how you got so paranoid.
Nobody is having the schools raise their kids. If they have two incomes, its because they need the money. God given role? Translation: Barefoot and pregnant moms being subservient to the man of the house who goes out to “bring in the bacon”. This guy should really have lived in the 50’s.

Stop being a nudge!

Rob
8 years ago

Your first problem is you think of it as “your tax dollars”. Let it go, you have no choice but to pay them. Don’t cry about it, and face it. Then you expect to be rewarded for being such a good taxpayer. Saying “I pay my taxes” is like saying “I take care of my kids”… You look like a fool when you brag about things that are expected of ordinary people.

SB Resident
8 years ago

A big problem with this notion is the slippery slope. There is also plenty of research showing the benefits of preschool too, will taxpayer-subsidized preschool be next?

Vern001
8 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

Other countries seem to be able to do it just fine. Why not us?

Jo
8 years ago

With all of the new 40b projects in town and additional tax money there should be plenty of room for this. We pay more than most towns in property tax and receive less services such as sewer, trash pick up. Kindergarten, and a lot of places the water pressure is sub standard. So where is the money going? Overall a poorly run town financially with back yard politics that allows for a lot of questionable behavior.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  Jo

Jo

If you want to know why your taxes are high relative to the services you receive there are 3 principle drivers.

1. Debt – The town has one of the highest debt burdens on any town in Mass. This includes Algonquin, Woodward, and Trottier debt as well as the Chestnut Hill Bond. Some of this debt will start coming off the books in the next few years providing some relief unless we borrow more for some “worthy” project.

2. Relatively High School Costs – This is driven by the fact that our teachers are paid well above the state averages. Teacher salaries are at least partially a function of length of tenure and I believe we have a relatively senior pool of teachers. Teacher salaries make up nearly 1/2 of our budget. Given the power of the teacher union there is probably not much we can do about this until there is a change on Beacon Hill.

3. Inefficient infrastructure. The town owns a lot of underutilized buildings and refuses to deal with them. The same is true of our schools which could easily be accommodated in 3 buildings (the savings could probably fund full day kindergarten).

How did all this come about? People went to Town Meeting and voted YES. So, you ask who is to blame? Find a mirror. Until the voters say NO nothing will change.

Mom of Two
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I don’t agree about messing with teachers’ salaries. If anything they should be paid more. I don’t know if you have young kids in Finn/Woodward (I can’t speak for Neary/Trottier because I don’t have kids there yet) and see all that the teachers do during the day and later, at home, for their students. If you did, you might think twice about bringing up their salaries. State average salaries for teachers are pathetic – ours *should* be paid above the state averages. These people have one of the most important jobs of anyone, anywhere. They are preparing our children for the future. They need to be respected and compensated accordingly. Other countries value and treat their teachers way more than we do, and we need to get with the program.

And please, don’t bring up the “well, they have the summer off” argument as reason that they should be paid so much less. Because they are paid so little, most newer teachers have summer jobs. Those who are more experienced and are paid more may not need summer jobs, but think of this: Many working professionals who have been with their employers for a while have 3-4 weeks of vacation each year. When you add up the time teachers wrap up their classrooms from one school year, and how much earlier they go back to school before the students, they have about 5 weeks off. The teachers who I know spend a lot of that time researching new teaching methods for the upcoming year and preparing in other ways. And yes, they take a break during that time. They deserve it. And yes, they get some recharging time during school vacation weeks, which they also deserve (though the teachers I have experience with spend a good chunk of that time catching up on work). Teaching is a professional job that deserves a professional salary.

I do agree with the inefficient infrastructure. Our schools could be accommodated in three schools (preschool-2 at Finn, 3-5 at Woodward), but that would require some immediate investment in expanding the schools a bit – adding classrooms, perhaps expanding cafeterias. I’d think, though, that a one-time investment in each school would even out in the end.

What are the underutilized buildings in town?

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of Two

It is a simple fact that are teacher salaries are well above the state average. If you want to give teachers much higher wages then you have to be willing to ask for a major tax increase. Teacher wages account for nearly 1/2 of every tax dollar raised in our community (more if you count the benefits). These are facts.

You can argue one way or the other about whether teaching is a full time job. Every time I do the math I come up with teachers working about 200 hours less than a traditional private sector worker. Make no mistake about it teaching is hard work and deserves respect particularly if done well but teachers are not the only hard working people in the commonwealth.

I agree that we could operate our schools in a 3 building format.

Right now the “Arts Center”, Fayville Hall, Station 2 and Cordaville are all used inefficiently and could easily be consolidated in Neary if it were transitioned to municipal use.

I for one would much rather use the money saved to pay for service providers (Teachers, Police Officers, Fire Fighters etc) that be wasted on our inefficient infrastructure.

You can argue one way o

Mark Ford
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al,

And you know that a new public safety facility is eventually going to be placed in front of voters, too. Will that be a renovation of our current facilities? It doesn’t sound it to me…are we about to put another couple of town-owned buildings on your list? Let’s add in the Burnett House to the discussion, since it too carries opportunity costs (what we spend on that building cannot be spent on other CPA-appropriate projects). And the Main Street project, which is bound to cost the town a bunch of money…throw in a couple of large real estate development projects, potentially involving 40Bs…does having a ZBA Board Chair who’s also a developer with business in Southborough present a conflict of interest?…have we paid for the additional costs of the Algonquin Renovation, given the judgment against our position? Are there parcels of land we should have our eye on preserving? We ought to take a strategic look at our town, prioritize our goals, and agree to move forward sensibly. And of course, taxpayer-funded full-time kindergarten needs to be on the list, too.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of Two

Mom of Two – you should run for school committee since I am sure you would fit right in.

My over the top support for teachers ended when, after a simple request during a meeting, I was told “that is not in the teacher’s contract.” Ok, you got me. I never have been an over the top supporter of teachers.

The school budget is 75% of the total budget. Should we go higher and see what town services have to go or how much higher property taxes have to go.

Not to worry – fairly sure full time kindergarten will be in the budget next year and that budget will pass with an overwhelming majority at TM.

Every other town has it…………what a great argument. Just make sure we don’t compare cost per child between school districts – it gets the school committee all worked up.

Sboro Mom
8 years ago

Please stop and focus on the actual argument for full day kindergarten. Do you realize that Southborough is one of the few towns in the area that still charges for full day Kindergarten? I don’t know anyone in education (or anywhere else) who confuses Kindergarten with daycare. I am shocked, horrified, and generally saddened by most of these comments from my neighbors.

JMO
8 years ago
Reply to  Sboro Mom

I did a little research and your comment that Southborough is one of the few towns in the area that still charges for FDK is not exactly correct. There are several surrounding towns that do charge at least during the 2013-2014 school year. You can check the map here: http://www.strategiesforchildren.org/eea/6research_maps/EEAMap_FDKTuition10.pdf I could not find stats for the current school year, so perhaps a few towns have been added.

I also consulted a site eyeonearlyeducation.com and was dismayed to read the following, “Part of what’s driving the push for full-day K in the districts that do not yet offer it is the need to prepare students to meet the math and English requirements of the Common Core State Standards, which were developed by education officials and governors in 48 states.” (ie The need for FDK is partly driven by some stupid standardized test. So much for little guys having unstructured time to be a kid.) The site goes on to quote two neighbor towns, Holliston and Hopkinton, both which have converted to tuition free FDK. (I assume it passed the town vote)
It was reported that Holliston’s proposal entailed the following: “For next school year, Superintendent Jackson is proposing eliminating tuition, extending the French immersion program to full-day, and discontinuing half-day kindergarten. The proposal would add $466,689 to the district budget” while Hopkinton projected a budget increase of $416,000 to fund FDK for the 2014-2015 school year.
Attending kindergarten is not mandatory in the state, however providing half day kindergarten is. I believe it is reasonable to charge a fee for providing a service to parents that is above and beyond what is required.

Rachel
8 years ago

We’re forgetting one thing. If we offer “free” (tax-funded) FDK, what happens to half-day? Obviously, it will no longer be offered. What happens to the children that are not ready for a full day of school? What happens to the family that wants to spend just a little bit more time with their child? Keep half day.

Vern001
8 years ago
Reply to  Rachel

I have to agree. I think some five-year-olds aren’t ready to spend 7 hours at school. Even if there is a full-day kindergarten, it wouldn’t hurt to continue to offer the half day.

Southborough for Full-Day Kindergarten
8 years ago

The Southborough for Free Full-Day Kindergarten group is comprised of Southborough residents who are proud of the strong school system we have in Southborough. We believe that investing in full-day kindergarten for all students is necessary in order to provide quality education to our students and maintain the strength of our school system.

Due to the changes in curriculum as a result of aligning to the Common Core, we believe that the currently provided half-day program is no longer sufficient to give students the instruction time needed to meet the requirements of the curriculum while also fostering social and emotional development.

From the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education website, “All school districts are required to provide a free, part-time kindergarten education for eligible children.” Southborough is among the 25% of school districts meeting these minimum state requirements. The remaining 75% provide a free full-day program.*

In order to elevate all students to full-day kindergarten, the program must be fully funded, which means that tuition cannot be charged. There are grants available to help offset the loss of revenue from the current full-day tuition, and the group is working with the Superintendent to learn how other neighboring towns managed the transition to free full-day kindergarten.

We realize that more research needs to be done in order to see how full-day kindergarten can be achieved for Southborough in a way that is sustainable for our town. We plan to support our Superintendent and School Committee in this process. Academic requirements for kindergarteners have increased over the years, and we believe that as a town, we need to adjust our kindergarten offering to support these changes (as many neighboring towns have already done). We strongly believe that providing our kindergarteners with a full-day program is essential to their success.

*Source: Strategies for Children, “Tuition Rates for Full-Day Kindergarten by City/Town 2013-2014 School Year”

Al Hamilton
8 years ago

I think full day Kindergarten has merits. Money invested in early childhood education is probably the most productive money spent in our schools if the program is done well.

But, please, do not call it free. It is not free. If we decide to do it the money will come out of the pockets those who might be able to afford it and those that cannot afford it. That is the nature of taxes, they are payments compelled by the force of law.

Calling it free is insulting every taxpayer in town. Our town has a long tradition of generously funding our schools. Let’s not insult those generous souls. Lets call it what it is, taxpayer funded full day kindergarten. That is the honest description. Then we can have a real debate about the benefits and costs.

Mom of Two
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I understand your concern with the term “free kindergarten.” But if you want to add the phrase “taxpayer-funded” to kindergarten, then you need to add the phrase to every single thing our taxes support. Taxpayer-funded high school. Taxpayer-funded Medicare. Taxpayer-funded fire department. Taxpayer-funded highway maintenance. And so on and so forth.

The point is that full-day kindergarten should be a basic part of public education, just like first grade – twelfth grade. Parents should not have to pay $3000+ each year for their kids to get a quality kindergarten education.

The semantics are silly.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of Two

Semantics are important. Calling it “Free” irritates people like me who are nominally in favor of full day kindergarten. Elsewhere on these pages I have suggested that there is a way to fund Full Day Kindergarten without raising taxes that you might be interested in. (It is a long shot at best)

Just remember, to find the money for Taxpayer Funded Full Day Kindergarten you will probably have to get through a Prop 2.5 override. That will require a 2/3 vote and a majority vote at the polls.

If you really want this, start by acknowledging that this is not free and that it will require a generous act of the electorate who will be asked to dig deeper into their pockets whether they can afford it or not. Talking about it as an entitlement is a sure way to damage your prospects.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Maybe I am just spitting in the wind here, but there is another way for this to be paid for without a tax increase. Ask the teacher’s union to re-open the contract and make concessions in the equivalent amount full day kindergarten.

After all it is for the children.

Beth D
8 years ago

Now days, kids are expected to be reading when entering first grade. If they are not, they are already behind. I have a very good friend who teaches kindergarten in a boarding town. She has always taught half day although full day was offered at a price. She advocated for all full day and the town took her argument to heart. This year the town is all full day kindergarten without a cost. Yes, there were parents who were sad to see their little ones going off to full day, thinking that it would be too stressful for them. But accutally, with all that is required in kindergarten now (due to the Common Core) the childern are experincing a less rushed, more relaxed learning environment in the full day rather than in the half day. The town has also noticed long term benifits for the students who attended full day kindergarten in years past. It is a way to set them up for success, rather than having them playing catch-up all year long in first grade. And really, whose child doesn’t go to kindergarten and what parent doesn’t want their child to be successful? It’s time to end half day and it’s time to give our children the gift of success, free to all as public school is intended to be.

Parent and taxpayer
8 years ago

Honestly, you sound so nice and well intended but who cares what common core sets, common core proponents would take the children out of your hands at six months old if they could and some parents were glad fully give them. An old communist adage once was said, and is repeated even today, And we see it with the Muslims all over the world only wanting to teach their way, ” you control the minds of the classroom in one generation and you control the society in the next.” That should scare both liberals and conservatives. And again, I go back to where will the money come from? Do you want your government who’s already 15 trillion in debt to be 30 trillion? And I’m not coldhearted, I’m educated, I’m a proponent for education, but at what cost? Would you please share of which town you used as an example?

Nonsense
8 years ago

I love how whenever this guy (and we all know who it is) starts off with “You sound so nice and well intended” (SIC), we know he is going to basically discount whatever someone with a moderate point of view said. Not only that but he goes and uses FOX news scare tactics by dragging out the commies and Muslims. WOW! Put on your tinfoil hats folks!

To address where will the money come from, I will refer you to Al’s comments. We can afford it….in several ways. Oh and by the way, we are talking about the town of Southborough MA, not the Federal government so stop with the trillions in debt nonsense! For that there is a cure too, cut defense spending and end the “Drug War”! Biggest pork barrel ever…bigger than every entitlement COMBINED! But Oh no we can’t do that because of all the commies and Muslims….right?

Beth D
8 years ago

I am referring to Marlborough.
Common Core Standards is not an option for students in Massachusetts. It is what dictates the curriculum, what guides the teachers, and is the high standards that our kids must meet in order to pass. It’s tough and fast passed. Do I fully agree with it? Well, that’s really another subject. However, the only way around it is to choose private schooling.

Beth D
8 years ago

*paced

Kate
8 years ago

Beth; I attending meetings about Common Core when it first came to the districts’ attention. I’m not really sure what you mean by “tough” and “fast-paced.” As you stated, it’s a plan to guide curriculum and instruction. I’m an early childhood educator, and if there’s one thing I know for sure, children’s brains are built for learning. And having a plan is a good thing, from my perspective.

Of course, people have to choose what’s best for their families. My children have attended regular public, charter and private schools, and we found that the most rigorous academically were the charter and private schools.

Beth D
8 years ago

This really isn’t a debate about the pros and cons of Common Core. I referenced it as one reason why full day kindergarten is now nessasary. But, in our house, we find these high standards challenging and fast paced. Not a criticism, just an observation.

Kate
8 years ago

Of course – thanks, Beth!

Just Curious
8 years ago

Talk about double talk!!!!!! “In order to elevate all students to full-day kindergarten, the program must be fully funded, which means that tuition cannot be charged.”

If you support increasing taxes so pay the cost of full-day kindergarten, then just say so!

I’ll just about guarantee that the school committee will vote to increase the budget so this is free.

I dislike the argument that because other towns do something, we should too. It reminds me of when teenagers whine that another teenager gets to do something so why can’t they do it too.

If you believe this is a necessary expense for the town then lobby the school committee. They’ll increase their budget and it will get approved at town meeting.

Maybe Mrs McDaniels can help out here- Has there ever been a school committee warrant that was voted down at Town Meeting? I cannot recall one.

These state mandates drive me nuts! I wish they would just let each town decide how they want to spend their money. Personally, I’d vote for more money for the school to provide classes for the gifted, and no, I sure wasn’t one of them. I just hear from folks that the bright kids tend to get less attention, especially at Trottier.

We are fortunate to live in a town that values education and has terrific dedicated professional teaching our children.

T. McNamara
8 years ago

I take it from the article that this would definitely not take effect next year (i.e., 2015-2016), but can anyone advise on when we’d be likely to hear that Southborough would switch to tuition-free full-day kindergarten (and whether half-day would be eliminated entirely), relative to when the school year begins? I think I may really be asking when the budget for the following fiscal year is officially approved. For example, would we hear in May about changes for the next school year? I know it is a minor point on the horizon but for those families trying to plan ahead and considering half-day K it would make a difference (since often arrangements for other care/school need to be made in the autumn or early winter, for the following school year).

T. McNamara
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Thanks so much for this outline of how the process generally works, Beth. It is very helpful!

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  T. McNamara

There is an option for a citizen supported warrant article that would provide taxpayer funds for full day kindergarten. It could be done as a warrant article. All that is required is draft language and the signature of 10 voters. If someone wanted to go that way they should probably submit paperwork before the new year as the Warrant could close at some point (Selectmens call)

There is also a catch. If the article amended the school budget, the School Committee would not be under any requirement to spend the appropriated funds on full day kindergarten.

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