Board discusses school readiness costs/benefits

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Mon., Jan. 28, 2013

Among the concerns of residents who spoke during the public comment portion of the Jan. 24 Hebron Board of Education meeting were class size and school bus routes. Michelle Dorn asked that the board not cut any teacher positions. She said that she’d heard that Hebron Elementary School was overcrowded. “Has anyone thought about moving the third grade back to Gilead Hill?” asked Dorn.
Dorn was also concerned about the possible elimination of a school bus. She said her child already got home at 4 p.m., and the elimination of a bus might result in an increase in the distance of already-long routes. Resident Cheryl Leage echoed Dorn’s concern regarding the cutting of teaching positions and the potential effects upon class size.

Acting Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi again addressed questions that had come up regarding the district budget. An overdrawn instructional equipment line item in the amount of $1,900 was attributed to nap mats for pre-school and kindergarten classrooms. A consultant from Central Connecticut State University being paid $9,175, Veronesi said, was someone that has worked with the district in the past. “He is continuing to work with both of our leadership teams on basically climate issues and in particular trust and communication,” said Veronesi.

Board member Dominic Marino brought up the issue of pre-K instruction, and in particular the new school readiness program in Hebron. The program, slated to serve a total of 18 pre-school-aged students, was initially supposed to result in no cost to the district, with expenses all being covered by a $107,000 School Readiness Grant. Marino suggested that not all expenses would be covered by the grant, after all.

Director of Special Education Judith Richard suggested that all costs for the program this year would be covered by program tuitions, and that there would be no costs incurred by the district. The Hebron program calls for six full-tuition students at a cost of $2,200 per year. Twelve additional income-qualified students will be charged a sliding tuition rate, with a minimum payment being $5 per week.

“The whole premise of the program is for children who would never have quality preschool to have that opportunity,” said Richard, going on to outline some of the current research pertaining to school readiness and future school and life performance. According to Richard, a quality preschool program leads to improved performance on both CMT and CAPT tests, a decrease in special education referrals of 23 percent, a decrease in teen pregnancy of 49 percent, a decrease in grade retention of 13 percent, a decrease in teen arrests by 20 percent, an increase of 17 percent in high school graduation rates, an increase of 27 percent in employment, an increase of 23 percent in home ownership rates and a decrease of 14 percent in welfare utilization.

One of the costs associated with the program that Richard identified was an upgrade to the Gilead Hill School playground to make it safer for preschool-aged children. Richard said this change would be required in order for the school readiness program to achieve accreditation.

“This is completely shocking to me,” said board member Stephanie Raymond. “I was under the impression that this was going to be completely covered by the grant.”

Moving forward with the budget discussion, Veronesi said that the district was currently on track to experience a 24.9-percent increase in health insurance rates. The district’s insurance broker was scheduled to go out to bid by week’s end, soliciting quotes from Cigna, United, Connecticare and Aetna.


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