D161 Parents, Board Split Over Dropping Full-Day Kindergarten
As part of trimming the budget over the next three years, the Summit Hill school board wants to eliminate full-day kindergarten. But some argue such a cut will hurt the students.
For the parents and board members of Summit Hill School District 161, two hours have become one of the most important things when it comes to the budget cuts facing the district.
Two hours is the time difference between full- and half-day kindergarten programs in the district. As part of a plan to cut $3 million over the next three years, the board wants to eliminate the full-day program, a move that has divided district parents and even members of the board.
Supporters of full-day kindergarten, including board members George Perros, Denise Lenz and Stacey Borgens, argue that dropping the program will have an adverse effect on the education of students.
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Even the board members and parents who support getting rid of full-day kindergarten agree that it's a good program and hate to see it go, but that it's a better alternative than closing schools or increasing class sizes. Summit Hill also is one of the few districts in the area--along with Frankfort School District 157-C and Kirby School District 140 in Orland Park--to have full-day kindergarten.
Some board members reinforced the idea that the district has a strong half-day program that parents can currently enroll their children in. Board Vice President Joy Murphy said half-day kindergarten can be just as effective when it comes to educating students as the full-day program. In fact, during a special budget workshop Saturday, some parents who taught at the elementary level in other districts cited studies showing that the gains a child can have going to a full-day program even out by the time they reach third grade.
But there's a larger underlying issue for some board members who contend that reductions elsewhere should be looked at before the kindergarten program is even put on the table.
"We should cut somewhere where it doesn't have that direct effect (on students)," Perros said in an interview Tuesday. "We're trying to do what's right for the children. We could've found other places to cut."
Borgens agrees, saying she thinks there are other areas that could be trimmed without directly affecting the educational process. She said she passed along suggestions for about $320,000 of possible savings, mostly in administrative cuts, to Supt. Barb Rains to look at to see if they were viable.
"To me, it's not just about full-day kindergarten," Borgens said. "I want to make sure we can make every other cut before we cut it. (Parents) want to see cuts at the top. They want us to make as a many cuts before we take away the full-day program. ... If we exhaust everything we can, then we can go to parents and make the case."
As an alternative, Lenz suggested a tuition-based, full-day kindergarten that would allow parents to foot the bill for the program. Rains and her staff were going to break down the cost and savings of such a program, and the item would be on the agenda of the Wednesday's meeting. Perros said he heard the cost of tuition would be around $2,500, but no official figure has been determined.
Even though it keeps a full-day program, Borgens and Perros don't support a tuition-based initiative, saying it would discriminate against parents who couldn't afford it.
Some residents have started a petition asking the board to wait to make a final decision on the full-day kindergarten program, said parent Connie Blondin, who is helping to organize the effort. The petition asks to table a decision until the board's Feb. 22 meeting, so that more research can be done on the effects of dropping the program and details are set on what a tuition-based program would look like. Also, it asks for enough time for all D161 parents to be notified if the full-day program is eliminated.