The Richmond Register

September 5, 2013

Thomas to propose full-day kindergarten at Monday tax hearing

Revenue generated by rate hike would cover cost

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Madison County Schools’ Superintendent Elmer Thomas will announce a plan to begin full-day kindergarten in the district Monday at the school board’s 6 p.m. public hearing on the district’s property rates.

The hearing will take place in the Madison Central High School lecture lab (gymnasium entrance).

Full-day kindergarten will be possible only if the board votes to increase taxes on real and personal property, Thomas said.

Madison County is one of eight Kentucky school districts that offers only half-day kindergarten.

The other 161 districts offer full-day classes, and five offer either option, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.

The Madison County district has been solvent for years, Thomas said, “but there is no room in the budget for full-day kindergarten.”

The proposed tax increase would generate nearly $1 million in extra revenue, enough to fund extended kindergarten classes, he said.

The current rate of 58.3 cents (per $100 assessed value) on real estate would be increased to 60 cents while the personal property rate of 58.8 cents also would increase to 60 cents.

The increase would add around $18 to the tax bill of a home worth $100,000, or $1.50 a month, the superintendent pointed out.

Tax-hike opponents filled the room during the August 2012 public hearing to stand against any tax increase.

In the end, the board voted 4-0 to levy a 58.3-cent tax rate on real estate, the same as the previous year. The personal property rate was lowered to 58.8 cents, a drop from the 2011 rate of 59.4.

Thomas said he has been very clear about his position on fiscal conservatism since beginning his tenure in July. However, funneling the extra revenue “directly to students at school-level” along with “appropriate staffing allocations” also demonstrates fiscal responsibility, he said.

He and his staff “look at every dollar” to ensure the district is not overspending on programs, or even on employees, he added.

“We’re not just taking a tax increase to take a tax increase,” Thomas said. “All the money would be used for full-day kindergarten.”

During the superintendent-selection process this summer, the board conducted a weeklong community survey that received 776 responses.

Along with collecting feedback on the district’s strengths, the most important challenges the new superintendent will face and the top qualifications the next superintendent should have, respondents also could write a personal message on the survey.

Thomas began weeding through the responses during his first week at central office and he was “amazed by how many respondents wrote in all caps ‘FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN,’” he said. “It is a subject that just keeps coming up.”

Early on, the board charged him with the task of starting full-day kindergarten in Madison County Schools, he said.

In fact, during the November 2012 elections, board member (then candidate) Mary Renfro campaigned on the idea of implementing all-day kindergarten.

“Surrounding counties such as Garrard and Fayette already have all-day kindergarten, we should too,” she told the Register in October.

The board also asked Thomas to increase college- and career-readiness, he said, which begins with early childhood education.

Thomas said he spoke with several elementary teachers who say some students are not “on target” and do not show academic gains until third grade.

With only a half-day of instruction available, some students cannot leave kindergarten prepared for first grade, he said. Primary teachers must then spend time catching up students.

The plan for full-day kindergarten would include adding 10 to 12 teaching positions with additional teaching aides and paraeducators. Thomas estimates the $1 million generated by the tax increase would cover only personnel costs.

With half-day kindergarten, there are 24 students per classroom in morning sessions and a different set of 24 students in the afternoon. One teacher could not instruct all 48 children all day, so additional staff would be required, he said.

However, the district would save on transportation because mid-day bus runs would be eliminated, he added.

The board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting is Thursday at Madison Central.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.