A year ago, Ohio school districts were wrestling with a state mandate that required them to offer all-day kindergarten starting this fall. But after the mandate was eliminated earlier this year, most schools scrapped plans to offer more class time to first-year pupils because of pressure applied by state funding cuts.
Oakwood City Schools and Valley View Local Schools are the only area school districts implementing all-day kindergarten this year. Oakwood's program is expected to cost $265,000 annually, which is being generated by a 5.75-mill school levy passed last fall.
Gov. John Kasich signed a bill in March that eliminated a mandate by former Gov. Ted Strickland requiring all districts to provide and fund all-day kindergarten.
That put the brakes on most all-day kindergarten plans.
“I think it would be good for the kids, but it would have been a significant financial burden,” said Kyle Ramey, director of curriculum for Kettering City Schools. “Space also is certainly a significant issue.”
Oakwood proceeded with its plans because the levy that passed earmarked money for the program.
“Our voters had already approved funding for the program with the understanding that all-day kindergarten would begin with the 2011-12 school year,” Oakwood Superintendent Mary Jo Scalzo said. “We could not have proceeded in 2011 if it had not been a provision in the levy, nor could we have proceeded if the levy had not passed.”
Scalzo said that research has found that all-day kindergarten is beneficial for all children.
All-day kindergarten provides a minimum of five hours of school per day, while half-day kindergarten is 2½ hours per day.
Some Miami Valley districts already offer all-day kindergarten, including West Carrollton, Dayton and Fairborn.
Many others do not, including large districts such as Centerville, Kettering, Northmont and Springboro.
Although officials at those schools lauded the idea of more instruction time for students, the demise of the state mandate came as a financial relief. To provide twice the instruction time for kindergartners, area districts would need to effectively double the kindergarten staff and classrooms. That increased expense was seen as a challenge even before multimillion-dollar state budget cuts were announced.
Funding deficits have forced many districts to cut teachers and programs.
“We would need about eight to 10 additional teachers for all-day kindergarten, and we just had to cut 16 teachers and will be cutting again,” said Huber Heights Superintendent Bill Kirby, adding that his district expects to cut 30 teachers in two years.
“It becomes a question of, ‘What do you give up?’ ”
Huber Heights offers all-day kindergarten to students funded by Title 1, about four classes total, based on need.
Kirby said the district has been planning for three years to provide all-day kindergarten throughout the district, and the new schools the district has been building were designed accordingly.
“It is part of what we promised our community,” he said. “But, with budget cuts, we would have to lay off more staff to accommodate the teachers required of all-day kindergarten.”
Beavercreek City Schools is going with a revised approach to all-day kindergarten, which in the past has been employed by area school districts such as Bellbrook-Sugarcreek City Schools.
Beavercreek is implementing a schedule that offers a full day of kindergarten on alternating days, starting with this school year.
“The first thing we asked was, ‘What sort of educational impact would this have?’ ” Superintendent Nick Verhoff said. “It is a different program, but should be every bit as successful as our half-day program.”
Verhoff said school officials found there was a substantial economic benefit: transportation. The change eliminates the need for midday busing.
“It will save us an estimated $375,000 to $400,000 annually,” Verhoff said. “Also, if fuel prices continue to climb, that would make for even more cost savings.”
Kettering and Centerville are among districts not actively pursuing all-day kindergarten at this juncture. Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said it is not a realistic financial option at this point.
“More school is always a good thing, but I do feel like the program we have in place, the half day, works for us,” he said. “Our students are doing well and succeeding.”
“If money were no object, we would certainly consider implementing all-day kindergarten,” Kettering’s Ramey said. “More time with great teachers is always a good thing.”
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