New plan for full-day K suggests more classrooms in elementary schools

New plan for full-day K suggests more classrooms in elementary schools

WOONSOCKET - School Supt. Giovanna Donoyan has abandoned the controversial plans to accommodate all-day kindergarten by creating a 5th- and 6th-grade academy at Villa Novan Middle School.

Instead, this week she gave the Budget Commission a first peek at a brand-new arrangement.

She's suggesting accommodating the kindergartners by converting book rooms, office space, and art and music rooms in seven elementary schools into 11 dedicated kindergarten classrooms.

"Each elementary school would have all of its registered neighborhood kindergarten students in rooms for the full day," said Donoyan.

The new full-day instruction will cost an additional $1 million a year, but according to Donoyan's figures, adjustments to staffing and an increase in state aid will yield a surplus over the next four years. Officials say that an original plan calculating that amount the city can expect from the state for education was too conservative with the figures and now, the education department is predicting that Woonsocket will receive $6.9 million in new revenue by 2018.

A chart on the cost of full-day kindergarten shows the city paying $10,571 in the first year, when the district must obtain supplies and materials, after new state aid and grants are considered. In future years, Donoyan shows the district garnering a surplus from the program, of in $273,305 in 2016, $885,597 in 2017, and $1,465,564 in 2018, mostly due to the predicted increases in state aid.

While acting in her previous position as a state legislator, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt took the lead role in securing a $500,000 grant to help with start up costs for full-day kindergarten, widely considered a crucial tool for early intervention in education. The program was cut in favor of half day instruction as a cost-saving mechanism in Woonsocket several years ago, but critics assert that the move actually cost the city money due to the corresponding decrease in state aid, which is calculated by enrollment.

But opposition quickly mounted against several elements of the first plan presented by Donoyan earlier this year, which saw 5th-grade students moving out of the city's elementary schools and into the middle school to create room to house the kindergarten students. Dozens of residents spoke against the potential for overspending, overcrowding and the plan's lack of funding for teacher's assistants.

The issue even led one group of residents to start a recall petition against two new City Council members who supported the plan, Garrett Mancieri and Melissa Murray.

Donoyan addressed several of the complaints about the previous proposal during her testimony on Monday.

"We recognize the fiscal stress that's placed on the city's taxpayers and the vocal opposition that many have," she said. "Our commitment to educating the children of Woonsocket is a paramount concern for us."

The new model, she said, provides for 11 new teachers with salary and benefits paid 100 percent by local funds including an increase in state educational aid, plus 11 new kindergarten teaching assistants that would be hired and paid 50 percent through federal Title 1 funds and 50 percent through federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants.

One grant aimed at lessening the cost of starting up the program, however, is no longer available, she said.

In December, Woonsocket was one of several communities that was chosen to receive a Rhode Island Department of Education grant for start-up kindergarten expenses, to the tune of $72,928. That money, Donoyan said, has now been lost.

"I did not lose that grant," the superintendent said. "The Rhode Island Department of Education withdrew that grant because neither the School Board or the Budget Commission made a final decision about full-day K."

Budget Commission Chairperson Dina Dutremble responded that the loss is not the budget board's fault.

"With only getting a revised a plan today, I'm not sure you can point the finger at the Budget Commission," Dutremble said.

"We're still waiting for some of the answers that we requested," she added, regarding Donoyan's last presentation on full-day kindergarten, given in February.

Dutremble asked if she would ever get answers to her previous questions.

"You will," Donoyan said. "But some of those answers are relevant to the 5/6 academy and that looks like its going to be a moot point at this point in time."

Commission member Carolyn Dias, who previously served as chief operating officer for RIDE, agreed to work with Donoyan and the education department's finance director, Joe Spagna, to get the board's questions answered. "What we want to be sure of is the next time it goes out, whether its to the School Department or to the commission that it's been vetted," Dias said of the full-day K program.

"I think it makes sense for someone who has not been directly involved with advocating for full-day K for the community to come in and use your expertise," said Baldelli-Hunt. "This is a very important move that we're making and we want to make sure at the end of that presentation it's very clear to everyone exactly how we accomplish this."

The mayor also urged those opposed to elements of the program to suggest alternatives. "We understand the importance of this and the difference that this will make in the community and we also recognize the need to address the concerns that the general public has had."

"I hope those with oppositions will actually come forward and work with us to find solutions as opposed to being negative."

The proposal is expected to go before the School Board on April 23 with a possible vote by the Budget Commission scheduled for their next meeting on April 28.

Comments

"I hope those with oppositions will actually come forward and work with us to find solutions as opposed to being negative."

Labling as "negative" those who ask legitimate questions about how the City's limited resources are being used and allocated is the sign of a weak and insecure leader.

Clearly, the Plan that was put forth and voted on by the Rubber Stamp School Board was fraught with issues, inviting appropriate questions from the public.

As reported above, "even school Supt. Giovanna Donoyan has abandoned the controversial plans to accommodate all-day kindergarten by creating a 5th- and 6th-grade academy at Villa Novan Middle School." Is the Superintendent "negative"?

She labels critics as "negative" because most of time they do not offer an alternative. There is a rubber stamp of cynicism in this city. Where a discussion should be held, council and committee meetings end up becoming a blame game and a whine-fest.

"We can't afford it."
"We can't afford it."
"We can't afford it."

Man that gets old. How about "Let's find a way that we can afford it." This city effectively gets an 80% discount from the State on everything school related. Plus another half million bucks on top of that. FDK has been on the table since 2011, when we realized that cutting didn't save any money. On every WED audit since then, it has been recommended to reinstate the program. These are professional, unbiased auditors saying this. So the WED had at least 3 years to put forward the best program possible. It's wasn't a surprise.

I wonder why FDK is being so demonized. It's gonna happen. Now, let's make sure it's done right. Or you can make more flyers about how we can't afford it. #morecrying #QQ