Full-day kindergarten is focus of meeting with mayor, proponents

Mayor Mark Lauretti
Mayor Mark Lauretti

Full-day kindergarten proponents have met with Shelton’s top elected official and school administrator to discuss the idea of the city moving toward a full-day K program.

Lisa Czaplinski, who has started an online petition to push for an all-day K program, said Mayor Mark Lauretti did not seem as opposed to the concept as she had expected.

Lauretti does worry, though, that if funding should be provided, the Board of Education (BOE) could decide to spend the money in other ways.

Czaplinski said full-day kindergarten is needed to prepare students for the state’s new common core curriculum, especially in an era when many children have parents who both work or come from single-parent households.

Needed to compete educationally

“Full-day kindergarten is important to help our children compete educationally with the surrounding towns that now offer full-day kindergarten,” she said.

Kindergarten now focuses more on learning than socializing, she said. “Times have changed since we all were in kindergarten,” Czaplinski said.

More than 103 Connecticut school districts have full-day kindergarten while fewer than 36 have half-day, she said. Almost all towns in Fairfield County offer full-day K.

“Why are we behind?” asked Czaplinski, the mother of two young children.

Lauretti’s perspective on issue

Lauretti said the meeting with proponents involved “a good exchange of information. I’ll now look into some things.”

He said he is open-minded but does question the cost. “I’m not adamantly opposed to it,” Lauretti said.

The mayor said there are two sides to the issue, however, with some parents telling them they prefer a less formal structure for their 4- and 5-year-olds during their early education.

Lauretti wonders about the cost, which is expected to be more than $800,000 a year. “That number is big,” he said.

He thinks bureaucratic rules are driving up the cost. “Government goes overboard on everything,” he said.

School Supt. Freeman Burr, who was at the meeting, said the $800,000 figure includes only salaries and would be higher depending on the need for additional classrooms, furniture and equipment.

Lauretti said for every parent with young children concerned about having an expanded kindergarten, there are other residents whose priority is keeping their taxes low.

He said full-day also raises issues about parental responsibility and involvement versus the role of the government.

School superintendent’s view

Burr said the money needed to pay for full-day K is not in the school budget, based on recent fiscal history. “I don’t see the level of funding we’re getting in Shelton as being viable to make it happen,” he said.

For the upcoming school year, the BOE now is facing a potential budget gap in the $650,000 range —this figure is constantly fluctuating due to many factors —  because the new school transportation contract is not coming in as low as hoped.

Burr noted the state has specific requirements for a kindergarten classroom, such as having its own bathroom. Shelton might have to seek a waiver on some of these rules, he said.

Perhaps start with a pilot program

If Shelton moves toward full-day K, Burr would favor starting with a pilot program to phase in curriculum and teacher training.

Burr also thinks some Shelton parents would still choose to send their children to half-day K.

Kindergarten attendance is optional in Connecticut.

Czaplinski also was to meet with BOE Chairman Mark Holden on the issue.

Her online petition, titled “Mayor Lauretti and the Board of Education: Initiate a Full Day Kindergarten” at change.org, had almost 300 signatures as of late last week, she said.