All-day kindergarten to remain free


Kyrene schools will continue to offer free all-day kindergarten, provided that no budget changes will be made to programs affecting the middle schools, according to a decision voted by the Kyrene Governing Board on Jan. 10.

While the action brings a conclusion to months of discussion and study, parents concerned about this and other funding issues will have a chance to share their views at a meeting with state representatives from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23.

Since June, the board has explored a variety of kindergarten options to help reduce a $5.3 million budget deficit by about $1.6 million. Board members agreed it was impossible to provide the state-mandated common core standards in a half-day of kindergarten, and unanimously passed a motion to keep the current free all-day kindergarten model in Kyrene schools for the 2012-13 school year.

After board member Ross Robb made a motion to fund free all-day kindergarten, newly elected board vice-president Beth Brizel offered an amendment to require majority approval of the board to make any changes to middle school.

Jeremy Calles, district interim chief financial officer, had urged board members to make the decision during the Jan. 10 meeting, especially because kindergarten orientation was due to begin Jan. 19.

Carrie Furedy, the district’s assistant director of educational services, agreed that not making a decision on kindergarten on Jan. 10 would result in parents leaving the district due to not knowing what sort of kindergarten program would be offered.

“One of the reasons we do our kindergarten orientation in January is because the parents of today…are shopping for schools,” Furedy said.

Today’s educational climate is “not the same as when we or our children went to kindergarten,” Furedy said. “Now, they have a lot of choices with our open enrollment laws, the very liberal charter school laws we have in Arizona. They have a lot of options open to them.”

In order to be able to compete in the kindergarten marketplace, Furedy said the early date gives the district the opportunity to compete with other educational alternatives. Furedy added that, without a decision made on kindergarten before the Jan. 19 orientation, parents would be concerned about what the Kyrene kindergarten program would look like.

Parents and teachers voiced their concerns over providing funding for all day kindergarten at the expense of other programs, particularly middle school.

“It’s important for parents to be able to share with you their concerns, whether it’s responding to a rumor or not, because our experience last year with ‘specials’ (special area classes) was that, by the time we became aware of the specifics, it was far too late. The train was down the track and we couldn’t stop it,” said Rosalie Hirano, a Kyrene parent.

“What we are trying to avoid is a similar situation with kids in middle school.”

Hirano added that it would be much more helpful to provide more information on the Kyrene Web site to help residents understand what the board is proposing to cut.

Board member Ellen Shamah said it’s not as simple as saying it’s kindergarten versus middle school cuts. “Now, I’m hearing from a bunch of people that they don’t want middle school to change,” Shamah said. “The status quo is not always the best, and it has nothing to do with kindergarten…it’s a separate issue.”

Robb agreed, and said there are a variety of other scenarios where the district can potentially make no cuts to middle schools.

“I have a great deal of confidence that we will get through the budget process, and at least from my point of view, we will only make changes to the middle school model if the majority of the board believes they are positive changes,” he said.

“Otherwise, I believe that we will look to other line items (to make up for the budget deficit).”

During the meeting, Michelle Hirsch was re-elected governing board president and Beth Brizel was elected vice president.



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