Full-day kindergarten percolates as an election issue

Lori McKeon is tired of all the excuses. As a Shelton mother of four children, she wants the city to start a full-day kindergarten program.

“For nine years this topic has come up and the response has been the same, ‘We don’t have the money,’” said McKeon, who serves as PTO representative on the Board of Education’s (BOE) full-day kindergarten ad hoc committee.

She said while she’s pleased the BOE has formed a committee to look into the idea, “I want them to be more creative. Other towns have figured out how to do it.”

McKeon said where BOE and aldermen candidates stand on full-day K should be a consideration in the upcoming election.

Many people interested in idea

BOE member Kathy Yolish, ad hoc committee chairman, noted the committee’s last meeting attracted so many interested people it had to be moved to a bigger venue.

Yolish and other committee members have been visiting full-day programs in some nearby school districts, and have been impressed what they’ve learned.

They have been told full-day K has “a positive impact on property values,” Yolish said.

‘A lasting impact on children’

BOE Chairman Mark Holden, a Republican, is campaigning for re-election on his support for full-day kindergarten. Holden said data shows “it does have a lasting impact on children” and saves on what will be spent later for remedial help and intervention.

“It’s good for the students and for the taxpayers, and is something we ought to do,” Holden said.

Holden estimated full-day K could cost about $650,000 per year in the operating budget, plus one-time start-up costs of up to $350,000 for infrastructure and related expenses. He stressed those numbers are very general.

'You pay now or later'

BOE secretary Arlene Liscinsky, a Democrat, said she has long backed having full-day K. She said the issue has been around since the early 1990s.

Liscinsky said it appears full-day K has “positive” results academically, cutting down on tutoring and intervention. “You pay now or later,” she said.

While the Shelton BOE runs “a lean operation,” she said, it’s never “a good time” to try to find the money for a new initiative such as full-day K. She is leery of taking the funds from elsewhere in the school budget.

“Our obligation as board members is to put the idea on the table and let the community decide,” Liscinsky said.

Mayor: It's a BOE decision

When proponents discuss the idea of Shelton offering full-day K, the conversation eventually turns to Mayor Mark Lauretti, a Republican.

However, Lauretti said it’s really up to the BOE to decide what to do. “That’s an issue for the BOE and how they spend their money,” he said. “I can’t make that call.”

Lauretti said there are many examples of the school system spending money poorly, such as on generous payments to administrators who retire or leave the system.

“They just say we need money or else,” he said. “It’s an old game.”

Lauretti said some parents, who prefer to have their children home with them, oppose having full-day K.

Lauretti and some aldermen have been asked to join ad hoc committee members on a future visit to a full-day K site in another town.

Aldermen: We need more info

The Board of Aldermen also will play a role in the decision. Aldermanic President John F. Anglace Jr., a Republican, said he doesn’t have enough details to have a viewpoint yet.

Anglace is looking forward to getting a presentation on the concept. He thinks the issue is being emphasized just before the election for political reasons.

“My job is to fund it or not fund it, and they won’t get a dime until we get more information,” Anglace said.

Alderman Jack Finn, a Democrat, said he needs to learn more but does “know there are quite a few parents in the community who want it.”

He said full-day K is now being described as “the new first grade,” and noted many other towns offer it.

Finn said the BOE needs to provide more exact costs. “Don’t piecemeal it, but do everything at once,” he said. “If the figures are workable, I would be supportive.”