District approves full-day kindergarten

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Sunday, March 11, 2018 3:54PM

The debate on whether or not Wilton-Lyndeborough should implement a full-day kindergarten program dominated the District Meeting on Saturday, with voters split on the issue, but ultimately passing it in a 115-70 vote.

“They should all be starting on the same rung of the ladder,” said School Board member Carol LeBlanc, speaking in favor of the article.

The article proposed $117,000 to start a full-day kindergarten program, but LeBlanc explained to the crowd of nearly 200 residents that attended the meeting that because of state funding, the actual cost of the district, based on a 40 student enrollment, would be $57,545. That would include hiring an additional full-time kindergarten teacher, a part-time pre-school teacher and a part-time food service worker.

Residents weren’t the only ones split on the issue. While the majority of the School Board supported the article, the district’s Budget Committee did not.

When asked the reasoning behind their stance, Jim Kofalt spoke on behalf of the Budget Committee, saying the committee was not convinced of either the educational benefits nor the financial responsibility of implementing the program. In looking at districts with full-day and half-day kindergarten in comparison to Wilton-Lyndeborough, he said, there was not a large enough statistical difference to prove that it was a guaranteed benefit.

“The Budget Committee doesn’t think that we should be spending money on what is, at best, a statistical tie,” said Kofalt.

Other residents also questioned the full-day benefit, pointing to studies that showed that by third grade, there wasn’t a strong statistical difference between students who had attended full-day kindergarten versus half-day.

Superintendent Bryan Lane acknowledged that may be the case, but said that the district did incur costs in the form of Title I, Special Education and speech pathology services to try to reach that equilibrium. Currently, half of the district’s first graders are not at a point where they are ready to begin reading, and as of January, none of the current kindergartners had reached that proficiency either. Increasing to full-day kindergarten would increase instructional time for students from two hours a day to four, adding more than 300 hours of instruction to the year.

WLC kindergarten teacher Vicki MacPherson spoke in favor of full-day kindergarten, saying that in her years as a teacher, she’s seen the requirements for kindergarteners advance by a large degree, with no more instructional time to get them there.

“It’s just a matter of time,” she said.

Other residents objected on financial grounds, or to the fact that there would be no half-day option for parents that wanted to keep their children at home for a longer portion of the day. But ultimately, when the matter went to ballot vote at the request of nine residents, the majority favored the full-day measure.

Residents had little to say on the first half of the warrant, which included the district’s $12.3 million budget. The budget represents a 1.6 percent decrease from last year’s district budget, or $206,810, and with only one clarifying question asked, voters passed the budget with a unanimous voice vote.

The district’s support staff collective bargaining agreement also passed with similar ease. The agreement secures pay increases for the school’s support staff, which includes positions like secretaries, para-professional educators and custodial staff. The agreement covers 26 employees. The first year of the agreement increases salaries and benefits by $6,575. In the prior two years, that number increases to about $16,500. The lower number in the first year is accounted for by a change in the health care plan, explained School Board member Matt Ballou.

While it did not draw a large amount of discussion, the only other article on the warrant which did not receive unanimous support from voters was a proposed addition to the district’s building and roadway capital reserve. The request for $60,000 was proposed to be used to continue resurfacing the Middle/High School roof, and to repair the Middle/High School parking lot.

Bill Keefe of Wilton spoke against the article, though not against the improvements, suggesting that the district use money already in the fund, which currently holds about $139,000.

“My view is we have the money in the bank to do the repairs needed,” said Keefe.

In a hand-count vote, however, the district approved the funds 109-27.

The remainder of the warrant, which includes election for district offices, will be done through ballot voting in the individual towns on Tuesday. The district is seeking write-in candidates for open seats within the Budget Committee.