UPDATE: D161 Board Reverses Itself, Reinstates Full-Day Kindergarten in Close Vote
After saying it would cut the program from the 2012-13 school year last week, the Summit Hill school board voted to keep full-day kindergarten by a 4-3 vote. Discussion to close at least one school next year is now on the agenda for the next meeting.
- UPDATED (9:49 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9): Comments from board members George Perros and Stacey Borgens.
Going into Wednesday night's Summit Hill School District 161 board of education meeting, the fate of full-day kindergarten in the district was all but sealed. The board had decided at its Feb. 4 workshop to eliminate the program as part of its attempt to cut $3 million over three years. The only hope for saving it seemingly rested in creating a tuition-based model where parents picked up the tab.
But in the textbook definition of "a shocking turn of events," a majority of the board defeated a measure for the district to go to only a half-day kindergarten program, a move that brought back the full-day kindergarten program for the 2012-13 school year.
The deciding vote came from board member Sean William Doyle, who had been a supporter of cutting the full-day program at the Feb. 4 workshop. At Wednesday's meeting before the vote, he said he was in favor of keeping full-day kindergarten so long as board members pledged to find about $750,000 of savings elsewhere in the budget. Although the board members made no official pledge to do that, Doyle still voted against going to a half-day only program for the district.
Board Secretary Denise Lenz and board members Stacey Borgens and George Perros, who had all voiced their adamant opinions against cutting full-day kindergarten, also voted against the half-day motion. Board President Mary Kenny, board Vice President Joy Murphy and board member Denise Wildeveld voted for the district only having a half-day program.
"I was pleased to see that we ended up doing what I believe was right for the children by providing them with full day kindergarten," Perros said in an e-mail Thursday. "We will still be needing to look for cuts, but that was not one of the places to cut the first time around, not when it has such a direct effect on the education of the children. It should be our goal to provide the best education possible."
The option of creating a tuition-based, full-day kindergarten that would be paid for by the participating parents wasn't discussed because under state law the only way the district could initiate such a program would be to categorize it as an extended-care or day-care program, Supt. Barb Rains said at the meeting.
Kindergarten registration for D161 begins Thursday, Feb. 9.
With full-day kindergarten no longer cut from the budget, Kenny put discussion to close at least one school for the 2012-13 school year on the agenda for the board's Feb. 22 meeting.
"It's sad state of affairs," Kenny said after the meeting, adding that the district's $3 million deficit is a hole that needs to be filled and the board isn't getting any closer by reversing cuts.
"My concern is we end up with this wonderful island of full-day kindergarten, and everything else around it (falls apart)," Kenny said during her president's comments. "We only have so much in the pot, and I want every kid to have their fair share of it."
Wildeveld also was critical of keeping the full-day kindergarten program at the expense of not cutting a substantial amount from the district's deficit. With full-day kindergarten off the table, the board needs to seriously look at closing two schools next school year in order to come close to cutting the $1.4 million in the first year of the district's three-year financial plan, she said, adding that she would like to see a break down in the next few days of what has actually been cut from the district's budget.
"I think every board member has been assigned the task to look deeper into options," Borgens said in an e-mail Thursday. "The decision to cut programs or close schools should not and will not be taken lightly. I am encouraged by the ideas being brought forward by the community."
District residents and parents packed the board's meeting room Wednesday, and the majority of them were staunch supporters of keeping the full-day kindergarten program. One parent, Lisa Olson, whose child will start kindergarten next year, was in tears when she addressed the board during public comments before the meeting.
"You guys are breaking my heart," she said. "You guys don't think about the kids. ... What research shows that half-day kindergarten is better? Who can show me that? No one! Because it's not."
MORE DETAILS: Read the Transcript of the Live Blog From Wednesday's Meeting at the Top of This Article
After the meeting, Murphy said all of the board members--no matter how they voted--think full-day kindergarten is a great program. But she has seen first-hand with her own children the effectiveness of the half-day program. Ultimately, the board needs to make tough decisions and equally tough cuts if it's going to eliminate the district's debt.
"I'm very upset," Murphy said. "This has nothing to do with the richness of the (full-day kindergarten) program. It's a decision based on the fact that we have to cut $3 million over three years. ... Now, it's back to the drawing board. We're making decisions based on emotions, not on facts, not on necessity. ... No matter what cuts we make it's going to affect the children."
Also Discussed at the Meeting
- Rains announced the formation of a superintendent's advisory committee, which would gather input from community members about district issues, including curriculum and finances. When asked by a board member if this was similar to the community financial advisory committee he had suggested last month, Doyle said yes and was appointed as the board's liaison for that group, which will start this month. Rains said applications for community members who want to join the committee will be on the district's website as early as Thursday.
- The board received a report from the district's technology committee, which was requesting $540,000 for its budget in order to improve outdated school phone systems and increase the district's bandwidth. The increase in the budget would be about $160,000 more than the district's current $380,000 technology budget, which is set at a level to only maintain current systems.
You can read the transcript of Frankfort Patch editor Joe Vince's live blog of the meeting, which is attached to the top of this article, for more details about everything that happened at the meeting.