Bookman's budget proposal adds full-day kindergarten

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Jan. 5, 2012
Superintendent Dr. Alan Bookman presents his spending plan to the Board of Education on Jan. 3. Photos by Steve Smith.
Superintendent Dr. Alan Bookman presents his spending plan to the Board of Education on Jan. 3. Photos by Steve Smith.

Calling the increase of 2.67 percent the lowest in the past decade, Superintendent Alan Bookman presented a proposal for a $91.5 million education spending plan for 2012-2013.

Bookman attributed the $2.4 million increase to $1.96 million in salary increases, awarded through arbitration with the teachers' union last year, the expected net addition of one new teacher to the system, and just $349,000 for “everything else.” Included in that figure is $290,000 for necessary unfunded mandates, including Scientific Research Based Interventions, Bookman said.

Citing a small decrease in enrollment in the elementary level, Bookman said seven full-time teaching positions can be subtracted, reducing the salary account by $490,000. However, the same numbers – seven teaching positions and $490,000 – would be put back into the mix with the offering of full-day kindergarten. One teacher would be added to Glastonbury High School, and the enrollment numbers at Smith Middle School and Gideon Welles School would not warrant a change in staffing levels.

The upgrade to full-day kindergarten would not be for all students, but rather as a choice for parents. In Bookman's proposed scenario, Buttonball, Hopewell and Hebron Avenue schools would have two sections of half-day kindergarten and two of full-day. Eastbury would have one of each, Nayaug would have three full-day and two half-day, and Naubuc would have all four of its sections lengthened to full-day kindergarten. Parents would be asked beforehand which they prefer, and those numbers would be adjusted accordingly. Bookman said that at Naubuc, the full-day sessions were thought to be “most useful,” but requests for half-day sessions would also be honored.

Bookman said the expanded kindergarten is, at least in some cases, a matter of necessity.

“We have already started the process of adding to the curriculum for our kindergarten students,” Bookman said, adding that kindergarten teachers tell him things to the effect of, “We're jamming everything into a half a day, and we're cutting out time that is so important to the social development of our kindergarten students.”

Not everyone at the public meeting was in favor of the full-day kindergarten idea. Frequent critic of the schools' spending plan, resident Chip Geer self-deprecatingly, albeit facetiously, referred to himself as a “Scrooge,” because he opposes the increased school day for pre-first-graders.

“Isn't it a truism that only mean-spirited ogre types object to allocating even more tax dollars to this town's school system?” Geer said. “How can the administration recommend expanding any program in this day and age of runaway federal and state spending? Why now? What has made this become an educational imperative? Has full-time kindergarten proved to be of measurable value elsewhere?”

Geer added that he thought full-day kindergarten is a “nice to have” feature and could wait until the economic climate is better. “Cannot an expanded kindergarten program wait until we're all feeling a bit more bullish about our collective future?” he said.
Assistant Superintendent Matthew Curtis explained some of the research that went into the full-day kindergarten proposal.

“It's important to think of this full-day kindergarten initiative as really another opportunity for us to support our students from both an academic standpoint, as well as from a social and emotional standpoint,” Curtis said, adding that research supports getting students to “where they need to be”  by third grade, according to common core standards, greatly increases their future success.

Curtis said the current state of the half-day kindergarten has changed in the last five years, partly due to the required reading levels. “That really changed how we thought about teaching reading to our 5- and 6-year-olds,” he said. “That required us to provide more targeted time – time on task – in reading instruction, and that's really difficult to do in a 2-hour-and-40-minute day.”

Curtis added that about 60 percent of other school districts in the state of Connecticut provide full-day kindergarten, at least as an option – a number that is up sharply from five years ago. “I really do believe that the tide has shifted,” he said. “We will probably see significant movement over the course of the next several years with districts that do not have full-day programming in place putting full-day programming in place.”

The Board of Education is expected to make any changes to the budget, and then approve it at its meeting on Jan. 9.

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