South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Knost proposes free, all-day kindergarten starting in 2013-’14

Full-day kindergarten classes revenue positive, Knost says

Mehlville School District parents may be able to send their children to tuition-free, full-day kindergarten at no additional cost to taxpayers starting with the 2013-2014 school year.

Superintendent Eric Knost planned to present his recommendation for tuition-free, full-day kindergarten to the Board of Education Wednesday, Jan. 18. The school board will meet at 7 p.m. at the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

The school board established tuition-free, full-day kindergarten classes and increasing instructional time as priorities during a Jan. 7 goals-setting session.

Knost said tuition-free, full-day kindergarten would not incur any additional costs for taxpayers, as it would be funded through increased state aid because Mehlville has been on the foundation formula for several years. Mehlville previously was a hold-harmless district in which its state funding was frozen at the 1993 amount.

“When you’re hold harmless, you’re ensured to lose money, which we used to be hold harmless …,” Knost said at the goals-setting session. “Now that we are a formula school … as it sits right now, we would be able to hire the needed teachers for the add on to the program and still be revenue positive.”

Roughly 680 students currently are enrolled in half-day kindergarten in Mehlville. Based on an analysis of live-birth data, administrators estimate an additional 300 students would enroll in full-day kindergarten.

As a result, Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch estimates the district would receive $1.65 million from the state, which is based on projected formula funding in future years. The loss of tuition would total $625,000.

An estimated 14 additional teachers and four additional teacher assistants would be needed, which Knost said would be funded through the increased state aid Mehlville would receive.

Roughly $200,000 would still be left over from state funds, and the excess funds would go toward furnishings for additional kindergarten classes. The only item not factored into the state funding is facilities.

Knost said if every child currently enrolled in kindergarten was switched to full-day kindergarten, only two buildings would not be able to handle the number of children, Oakville Elementary School and Trautwein Elementary School. One temporary possibility for helping the schools is using relocatable units for classrooms.

“That’s a little problematic at Oakville Elementary because it’s a pretty small footprint there, and we probably wouldn’t want to put kindergartners in a relocatable,” he said. “We would probably move maybe an upper-level class or maybe a specials class to the trailer.”

Another issue that could arise is the possibility of some parents still wanting their children in half-day kindergarten. Knost said, at least for a while, the district will need to find a way to honor that.

“I think what we would probably do is we would intertwine the two, and if a parent just really, really wanted their child to only be half day … we would design the day where there was an exit point, a dismissal point that made sense,” Knost said.

Knost said district administrators and early childhood specialists would determine what the exit point for half-day students would be because curriculum for full-day and half-day kindergarten are different.

“It would be based on how the full-day curriculum is implemented, and the decision would consider just an appropriate exit point that would resemble, remotely resemble, what we currently have in half-day,” Knost said.

Knost said he would like to find a way to implement full-day, tuition-free kindergarten for the 2012-2013 school year but is holding off because of the state’s funding situation.

“The funding makes me too nervous. We just don’t know. It’s a fluid situation, so we have to let that settle down,” Knost said.

Mehlville currently only offers half-day kindergarten tuition free.

“We’re now only one of four districts in the state that don’t make full-day kindergarten their free and appropriate public education, and I do feel that the appropriate thing to do would be to have full-day kindergarten for all our students,” Knost said at the goals-setting session.

The other districts without tuition-free, full-day kindergarten are: Lindbergh Schools, the Rockwood School District and the Webster Groves School District.

At the goals-setting session, Board of Education member Rich Franz said he believes in early intervention but has an issue with how to fund the addition of tuition-free full-day kindergarten.

“My issue is with how we pay for it and is it the wisest use of funds based on the results that we’re getting from it … because again we’re going to have those people in the community that are going to say it’s a day care program,” he said. “So I want to know what are we going to say to those folks.”

Knost said it will not cost taxpayers additional money and it will be important to communicate the goals of full-day kindergarten to the community.

“(We can tell the community) how it will benefit the students, and how it fits in with our extra educational days throughout the lifetime of the student because you are really adding half a year of education to their system. So hopefully, we would even get a jump on first grade within the education system,” Knost said.

Board member Mark Stoner said at the goals-setting session it is clear taxpayers want the board to live within its budget.

“I would be all for (tuition-free, full-day kindergarten) if it’s within our budget and we’re not going back to the taxpayers for additional funds or revenue,” Stoner said.

Board President Venki Palamand said adding tuition-free, full-day kindergarten would benefit the entire community.

“I think the greater good is we’re going to capture a whole lot more families that probably couldn’t afford full-day kindergarten,” Palamand said. “Not only do we give that resource to them, (but) we will see positive results.”

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