Lauretti: City must be certain how any full-day K funds will be spent

Mayor Mark Lauretti confirmed on Wednesday night that he could support providing 60% of the funding needed to start a full-day kindergarten program in the next school year.

But Lauretti said he wants the funds to be put in a separate line item “so we can be certain it’s spent for all-day kindergarten.”

He also said his comments during a one-on-one meeting with parent Lori McKeon, a full-day kindergarten proponent, came in response to McKeon’s suggestion that perhaps parents could help pay for the difference between the costs of offering half-day K and full-day K.

At a meeting last week on the possibility of implementing full-day K for the upcoming 2014-15 school year, McKeon announced that Lauretti had told her he’d be willing to have the city provide 60% of the needed funds, or about $530,000.

McKeon said Lauretti wanted the funds kept on the city side of the budget to guarantee that it would be spent on full-day kindergarten and not another educational expense.

State laws on school funding

At last week’s meeting, Board of Education (BOE) officials said in response to McKeon’s remarks that state laws would prevent such an educational operating expense from being put on the municipal side of the budget.

Still, BOE Chairman Mark Holden responded that Lauretti’s apparent offer could be seen as a framework to get the funding needed for full-day K.

BOE member Kathy Yolish, who chairs the school board’s ad hoc committee for full-day kindergarten, then suggested that a separate line item to include all full-day K costs could be included in the education side of the budget.

Lauretti said Wednesday he understands the laws on the separation of municipal and school funds, but he wants to be certain any funds intended for full-day K are in fact spent on that program.

State law only allows the municipal side of government to set an overall amount for the education budget. City officials have no control over line items in the education budget and cannot tell the BOE how to spend its allocation.

Schools wants 5.4% increase

The BOE is seeking an almost 5.4% spending increase in its budget for fiscal year 2014-15, and Lauretti has implied he’s likely to reduce that amount in his budget proposal.

Full-day kindergarten will cost about $950,000 to offer in the first year, but that may only require about $370,000 in BOE operating funds, according to school administrators  (the $370,000 figure has been revised down from $450,000 by the BOE, due to what officials said was an earlier calculation error)..

This is because some costs would be made up by a reduction in elementary school teachers and certain full-day K infrastructure needs — such as new furniture and equipment — could be handled through capital bonding on the city side.