Last updated: January 29. 2014 1:16PM - 71 Views
By Lenny C. Lepola newsguy@ee.net

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Currently, the Big Walnut Local School District offers half-day Kindergarten at its three (soon to be four) elementary buildings. Students attend either a morning Kindergarten session or an afternoon session. During the Thursday, January 9, Big Walnut Board of Education meeting District Superintendent Steve Mazzi said the School District is exploring the option of starting an optional, fee-based All-Day Kindergarten.

While the Ohio Department of Education mandates full-day Kindergarten, Ohio’s 614 school districts have the option to waive the requirement in favor of half-day Kindergarten for economic reasons.

Since that January 9 Board meeting district administrators have been reviewing the results of an online survey seeking input about offering a fee-based All-Day Kindergarten; and on January 23 Assistant Superintendent Angie Pollock conducted a parent informational meeting at General Rosecrans Elementary School to explore the same topic.

Pollock said 100 chairs were set up for the informational session; almost every seat in the room was taken. She said there had been a few negative comments about a fee-based All-Day Kindergarten on the online survey, but last Thursday evening’s audience was positive.

During the informational meeting Pollock confirmed that the school district would move forward with an optional, fee-based All-Day Kindergarten during the 2014-15 school year.

“With the re-opening of Harrison Street Elementary, our buildings will have space available to accommodate classrooms for all-day Kindergarten students,” Pollock said. “What we’re trying to do is meet the community’s needs, but we have cost objectives. There are some folks who want us to provide all-day Kindergarten without additional cost, but currently the state funds Kindergarten at half the rate as grades 1 through 12 students. For us to fund the other half all at once would require six additional teachers, and that would be cost prohibitive.”

Pollock said based on current salary and benefit costs, the All-Day Kindergarten option would cost approximately $275 monthly, or $2,475 each school year.

Pollock also said as per Ohio Revised Code, if the district offers a tuition-based Kindergarten, it must also be offered for free or at a reduced rate to those who qualify.

“If a family qualifies for free lunch, they will be permitted to attend All-Day Kindergarten for free,” Pollock said. “A reduced fee at 50 percent of the rate, $137.50, would be available for those who qualify for reduced lunch.”

Pollock said the fee reduction is based on the same criteria used to qualify for reduced lunches based on federal guidelines. To apply, families may go to < bigwalnut.k12.oh.us >, click Food Service, the Free and Reduced Lunch Application is near the bottom of the page under Meal Pricing and Financial Assistance.

“A lot of folks already pay for daycare anyway,” Pollock said. “Some families are paying $600 a month for child care for the second half of the school day. They would be thrilled at $275.”

Pollock said she has met with the directors of daycare facilities serving the district’s Kindergarten students during the half day they are not in school; she said she understands the district’s All-Day Kindergarten option would impact their businesses.

“They have all been real positive,” Pollock said in a phone interview on Friday following her visits with day care directors. “We already collaborate with them on academic issues, and we really appreciate their collaboration. They’re all very much on board with our All-Day Kindergarten. It’s obvious they are all focused on the best interests of the students.”

Pollock said a Kindergarten registration process revision is in progress; that district administrators are reworking the registration packet that normally goes out to parents of children entering Kindergarten. She said the new registration packet should be completed and ready for registration in the next couple of weeks.

Pollock said the district would have no difficulty hiring qualified teachers. She said that’s an area of teaching where many excellent teachers are seeking work.

“I doubt if every Kindergarten student in the district would go to full-time; we would be pleased with half the district enrolled,” Pollock said. “Worthington started full-day optional Kindergarten 10 years ago with half their district. Now most of their district takes advantage of the option.

“If we have limited interest or are unable to hold an all-day section in each elementary school, parents will have the option to attend an available section in another elementary building,” Pollock continued. “Parents would be responsible for transportation, if this is the case. Students would return to their home school building for first grade.”

Bell times for next year will be approximately 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for all Big Walnut elementary buildings, Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 4, Pollock added.

Pollock also said to contact her at the District Administration office or any elementary building principal with questions.

Parents who are unsure which elementary their child will attend, contact the district transportation department or 740-965-8967).

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