One by one, speakers came to the microphone to urge the Shelton Board of Aldermen to give the city’s Board of Education (BOE) enough money to implement full-day kindergarten.
Parent Kristy Rodrigues said so much is being squeezed into the current half-day program that young students are stressed, including her child.
“Kindergarten is so hard,” her daughter told her one day when getting off the bus.
Rodrigues and many other speakers at the May 14 public hearing on the proposed budget said kindergarten today is much different from when they went to school, with more of an emphasis on learning now.
“We need to give them time” so they can learn, she said.
Many subjects for a 2.5-hour day
Renee Giordano, a resident and Long Hill School kindergarten teacher, said the current 2.5-hour day for kindergartners means some subjects can’t always be taught.
Giordano said students “desperately need” a longer day, especially those who could use extra help, including youngsters from single-parent households.
Several speakers questioned whether they made the right decision when they moved to Shelton due to the lack of a full-day kindergarten program.
Bryan Vasser’s two older children benefited from pre-K and full-day K in the Florida public schools, but now he’s worried what will happen here with his two younger children.
Vasser said full-day K creates “an early foundation” for young children, and so funding an extended program “seems like a real easy decision for me.”
“We can’t wait for someday,” said another speaker.
Vasser was one of a few people to question if there was “animosity” between city and BOE officials, and how that alleged friction might impact early education opportunities for Shelton children.
Most public officials downplayed the claims of animosity.
Al Cameron, BOE finance director, said “teamwork” between the city and BOE has led to “many great things” such as better school technology, and now is the time for another step forward with full-day kindergarten.
Cameron, who also is a resident, said “the Shelton model” is how much the local school system gets done with limited funding.
Spends less but gets good results
Mark Holden, BOE chairman, said Shelton spends less per student than 90% of Connecticut school districts yet has strong academic performance results.
The BOE’s budget is being challenged by rising costs for special education, energy and transportation, Holden said, and full-day kindergarten would save money in the long run by reducing remedial costs.
If the aldermen will provide the BOE with $700,000 on top of the mayor’s recommendation, Holden said, school officials will be “morally bound” to keep their word on how the funds would be spent — and that includes starting full-day K and eliminating pay-to play fees.
About 120 people attended the Board of Aldermen hearing on the budget. Parent Mike Sciamanna took note of the big crowd, saying it may be the biggest at a meeting in City Hall in years.
“I hope you feel the passion. I hope you feel the energy,” Sciamanna told the aldermen.
Two dozen or so people spoke in favor of full-day K, including parents, educators and school officials. The hearing in the City Hall auditorium lasted about 90 minutes.
Detractor: ‘Glorified babysitting program’
Only one speaker, Ron Pavluvcik, offered a different view. Pavluvcik said the city has limited resources, teachers are overpaid, and new learning approaches introduced in recent decades are misguided and have not shown results.
Pavluvcik said an expanded kindergarten would be nothing more than a “glorified babysitting program,” and any increase in school funding for full-day kindergarten should be matched by tax relief for senior citizens.
A grandmother countered that full-day K is vital to attracting new businesses and residents, and prepares children to meet the state’s new Common Core Standards. “It’s not a daycare center by any means,” she said.
The city’s budget process
The aldermen could vote to finalize the budget as early as tonight, Thursday. Fiscal year 2014-15 will begin July 1. Most of the attention during the budget process has been on school expenditures, especially full-day K.
The BOE originally requested a $3.5-million (5.4%) increase, but Mayor Mark Lauretti reduced that to $2 million (3%). The Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T) then added back some funds to make it about a $2.6 million (4%) increase.
Neither the mayor nor A&T has recommended a tax increase. Instead, especially with A&T’s version, accumulated past surplus funds would be used to pay for some increased spending.
Parent: ‘It’s just not fair’
At the hearing, Marissa Telesmanick said she has a child in first grade and a child who will enter kindergarten this fall.
She said her older child requires remedial help and private tutoring. “I am living the effects of half-day kindergarten,” said Telesmanick, stressing she believes the situation would be different with a full-day program.
“It’s just not fair,” she said.
Mary Sue Feige, a Shelton resident and school principal in another town, said she’s seen the difference that full-day K can make.
Feige said the number of students who read at or above grade level has doubled in her school since full-day K was started.
Role in the economy, home values
Wayne Bragg, whose children are now grown, said having full-day K is important to the city’s economic future, housing values, and the ability of students to compete in a global economy.
Bragg and several speakers made references to how potential home-buyers will check out a community’s online school ranking, and that Shelton needs to do better by offering full-day K.
Anglace: ‘It’s all about the money’
After the meeting, aldermanic President John F. Anglace Jr. said the aldermen are not opposed to full-day kindergarten.
“We’re committed to try to make it work,” Anglace said. “It’s all about the money — and examining the dollars and where it’s coming from and how it will be spent.”
He rejected claims that “animosity” exists between city and school officials, saying both have roles to play in the budget process. “They’re making their case and we’re examining it,” he said.
Anglace reiterated that he’s against increasing the amount used from surplus funds to pay for an ongoing operating expense such as full-day K.