State aid needed to jump start all-day K

State aid needed to jump start all-day K

SMITHFIELD - It all comes down to the money.

Whether Smithfield offers all-day kindergarten next year depends to a great degree on the availability of about $80,000 in state funds to help finance the transition from half-day classes, according to comments made at the School Committee meeting Monday night, Oct. 21.

Most school board members indicated they are in favor of switching to all-day kindergarten, but as Chairman Richard B. Iannitelli observed at one point, "if the funding doesn't come through, though, (the plan for all-day K) comes to a screeching halt."

Overall cost of expanding the current four half-day K sessions into four full-day classes, one at each elementary school, is estimated at $364,325 a year, according to Supt. Robert O'Brien. This includes $284,325 for four kindergarten teachers.

However, the annual cost could be reduced in five years to $146,000 if three factors are in place: elimination of mid-day bus runs, increased state aid for expanded kindergartens, and winning a competitive state grant for increased kindergarten accessibility.

If all-day kindergarten is implemented, Supt. Robert O'Brien said, the district would: eliminate mid-day kindergarten bus runs to save about $82,000; receive extra state aid as an incentive for expansion, in the form of about $34,000 per year on a cumulative basis starting in the second year, with $68,000 the third year, $102,000 the fourth year, and $136,000 in the fifth and every year thereafter; and apply for a one-time state grant to finance the transition, which O'Brien estimated at $80,000.

This financial scenario with all three factors in place works out to be a $202,000 cost in the first year; $248,000 in the second; $214,000 in the third; $180,000 in the fourth year; and $146,000 in the fifth year.

The deadline to apply for the competitive grant is Nov. 1 and O'Brien said he intends to apply now, even though school board has not voted yet, because he needs to know if Smithfield is eligible for the $80,000 in extra funds. Grant winners should be announced in March.

O'Brien warned that a community's "poverty level" amounts to 20 percent of the criteria used to decide, so the district is not a shoo-in.

The School Committee delayed a vote to its next meeting, Nov. 4, but most members said they favor the expansion, particularly with an $80,000 grant, but want more time to consider it fully. All-day kindergarten would begin in September 2014, according to comments made at the meeting.

A brief discussion was held about phasing in all-day kindergarten, with perhaps two full-day sessions the first year while retaining two current half-day classes. But this idea was discarded due to concerns about the significant educational inequality that could result among youngsters in the same grade, as well as O'Brien's doubts about the availability of state grants for a phase-in.

Discussion of kindergarten came as O'Brien reviewed for the committee the recommendations of the 28-member Citizens Advisory Group and the presentation of those suggestions at a public forum Oct. 2, held at the high school and attended by about 100 residents.

O'Brien also is seeking committee approval at the next meeting for two other CAG recommendations: to add at least one Advanced Placement course at the high school each year, starting with chemistry next year; and to have work done on the technological infrastructure of the district's six school buildings.

Iannitelli in a quick estimate said total cost for one year of all three proposals would be "roughly $300,000."

O'Brien clarified the nature of the CAG when Al Costantino, a businessman and frequent critic of the school board, noted that most members are school district employees and only two are parents. O'Brien said he intended CAG to be a board of local educators that would advise citizens on school improvements, not the other way around.