The Richmond Register

November 16, 2013

Board adopts lowest-cost kindergarten option

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

BEREA — The 2014 all-day kindergarten implementation plan recommended by Madison County Schools’ Superintendent Elmer Thomas was approved by the board 4-1 Thursday, despite being unpopular with several in the audience.

The plan will shut down Mayfield Elementary as a school and convert its building into a kindergarten-only academy serving the four elementary schools in Richmond.

Students who attend kindergarten there would enter first grade at Daniel Boone, Glenn Marshall, Kit Carson, Kirksville or White Hall elementary schools.

To cost $930,000 annually, the option would include hiring 13 additional kindergarten teachers and 15 additional para-educators.

Waco and Kingston elementary schools would have stand-alone academies because of their outlying locations.

An academy at Shannon Johnson Elementary, which has available space, would also serve students who will attend Silver Creek Elementary, Thomas said.

The two other options considered would have involved either redistricting or purchasing mobile classrooms to keep kindergarten programs at each of the 10 elementary schools. The projected cost of those plans was estimated at $1.38 million and $1.86 million respectively.

Most of the parents who opposed the recommended plan Thursday night asked that the decision be postponed until after scheduling a forum, during which parents could give input and ask questions.

However, board chair Mona Isaacs said Friday that to implement full-day kindergarten in August, a decision had to be made as soon as possible.

A local planning committee of administration and community stakeholders now must begin making decisions about the district facilities plan and submit it for approval to the state Department of Education, she said.

Curriculum issues must be addressed, she said, so that students transitioning from a kindergarten academy to an elementary school will have a continuation in curriculum. Educators may be expected to attend professional development sessions this summer to carry out the modifications.

“We also have obligations to teachers,” Isaacs said. Teachers must put in placement requests in December so that the transfer process can begin with human resources.

“The timeline to get this done by August is jam-packed,” she said. “I really wish there was a solution that would make everybody happy. Money is, unfortunately, a big consideration.”

Although the board faced much opposition during a property tax hearing in September, it voted to increase tax rates, enough to generate almost $1 million. The board said it would use that money to fund all-day kindergarten.

Board member Mary Renfro was the only dissenting vote at the hearing, although she campaigned on a promise of implementing full-day kindergarten when she ran for the seat in 2012.

“We said we can do it (all-day kindergarten) for $900,000 and that’s the commitment we made when we approved a tax increase,” Isaacs said.

If a few years from now, the four kindergarten academies “do not go as well as we think,” the board chair said, “I would consider raising taxes again to put them back in their own schools. But this is the best decision we could make at this time.”

However, some parents voiced concerns Thursday about the impact the decision will have on their children.

“We are well aware that there are limited resources within our school system,” said Mayfield parent Shana Goggins. “But is the benefit of creating a centralized center for one grade worth the cost of displacing a large number of students into a foreign environment?

“As a parent, I must admit I am biased,” she continued. “My prime objective is to make sure that my child has access to any and everything she needs to be successful.”

She was concerned, however, about “the accelerated pace in which this matter is being decided,” calling it “extremely unsettling.”

Mayfield PTO President Amy Kaylor brought her step-daughter Jasmine to the podium Thursday and read aloud a letter the 8-year-old had written.

“My teachers care about me and teach us to become a better person. I know my teachers love me. Everything about my school is perfect. If you make me change schools, I will be mad. I will be mad because I don’t want to leave my perfect school,” Kaylor read.

In her own words, Kaylor told how Mayfield has affected her family.

Before she and her husband were granted emergency custody of Jasmine, she said, their daughter was in “a very unfortunate situation and a very unstable and inconsistent lifestyle.”

The family enrolled Jasmine in Mayfield and “within minutes of stepping foot in Mayfield, we were welcomed with open arms and in that minute, I knew that everything was going to be okay,” Kaylor said.

She then credited Mayfield with helping provide a stable lifestyle for Jasmine.

“I truly believe, despite what school district officials tell us, you will never have another school like Mayfield,” she said.

Next to approach the board was Kit Carson Principal Billy Parker.

Having worked in another district that had all-day kindergarten, he said, “I can attest to the gains that were observed from the benefit of an all-day kindergarten program.”

Under the kindergarten academy option, Kit Carson would likely receive students from Mayfield, he said. In light of that, he went on to address some of the concerns that had been shared by parents.

“It has been suggested that Mayfield Elementary provides wrap-around services that are currently unavailable at other Madison County elementary schools and relocating those resources may be difficult,” Parker said.

Although he did not know every service available at Mayfield, he said, “the Mayfield school community have found ways to break away from barriers to learning that exist in the lives of their students and this is no different in any other school in Madison County.”

Parker took exception to a suggestion that closing Mayfield as a school “does not support the idea that every student counts,” serving only the district’s financial interest.

“Every student still counts,” he said. “To suggest that students from any Madison County elementary school would count any less because they were enrolled in another Madison County elementary school suggests that we have educators whose love for kids changes based on the students’ address or the obstacles they face in their lives. I refuse to believe that.”

Parker then listed student services he said were available at every Madison County elementary school, such as family resource centers and academic interventions that provide additional support for students who may need special attention.

Several Silver Creek Elementary parents spoke Thursday night as well.

Silver Creek PTO President Kelly Foreman said her organization raised more than $20,000 for a reading program that begins at kindergarten level.

“We’re trying to determine how that foundation, that we as parents invested in, is going to then be restructured depending how kindergarten will be taught in a different school,” she said.

Foreman said she also was concerned about the transition of students to a new school ― the transition from home to a new school, and then the transition from the academy to a new school.

“There are more issues that need to be addressed. As others have said, we’d love to have the opportunity for a public forum. We found that many parents, even up until this afternoon, were not aware that this is going on. We urge you to table this issue for tonight … and to hash out some of these concerns we have as parents,” she said.

Parent Bethany Smith said her daughter who attends pre-school at Silver Creek and will start kindergarten next year. She asked the board to consider allowing Silver Creek to maintain its kindergarten program.

“I urge you to please postpone approving this until concrete plans have been made,” involving transportation, beginning and ending time differences of the school day and the fluidity of the education plan from one school to the other, she said.

Silver Creek kindergarten teacher of 10 years, Jennifer Bunch said as parents came to her with their questions and concerns, she “felt unprepared to talk to parents. I didn’t know what to say to them, obviously none of us do.”

But, she said, “There’s no doubt that no matter where I’m at, I’m going to take care of my babies, that’s my job.”

Chris Lakes, father of an incoming Silver Creek kindergartener, said he was supportive of all-day kindergarten but requested that schools in the southern part of the county be permitted to maintain their own kindergarten programs.

He said busing students from one school to another “decreases student learning time” and creates “unnecessary risk.”

With a little rearranging, some schools have space to house their own kindergartens, he said.

“I do not believe that Shannon Johnson is a true kindergarten academy. We are calling it that, but I do not believe that’s what it will be. It will be an elementary school with an inordinate amount of kindergarten children,” Lakes said.

Lakes, along with a few other parents, mentioned the kindergarten forum that had been scheduled in late October and then cancelled.

He said a decision should not be made until after another forum was scheduled.

After public comments ended, Thomas said that after looking at where the district had space to house kindergarten academies, Mayfield and Shannon Johnson were the only options. The locations of Waco and Kingston would cause transportation issues.

He said the district also was looking forward to adding new employees, but the “repeated” additional costs of redistricting or adding enough teachers to have a kindergarten program at each school was not feasible.

As Isaacs called for a motion on the proposal, Renfro asked if the board could talk about setting up a forum before the decision was made.

“I’m also a parent with young children that will be going to kindergarten too and mine will be shuffled around just like y’alls is too. I’m a little concerned myself about this whole thing,” she said.

Board member Becky Coyle said the forum that had been planned in October was premature because the three options had not even been developed yet. She wanted to be able to provide solid answers to the parents instead of “what-if answers.”

“I still think we need to do a forum for everybody... I didn’t vote for the tax (increase), I voted against it, but they (parents) were the ones who put the money up,” Renfro said.

“But there are parents who are not here that approve of us going on with all-day kindergarten,” Coyle replied. “I’m going to make a motion that we approve Mr. Thomas’ plan for all-day kindergarten.”

“I’m going to make a motion that we table it,” Renfro shot back. “It’s their kids that we’re doing this to.”

After a little confusion about which motion to address first, the motion to approve the kindergarten plan was seconded by board member Beth Brock. The motion by Renfro to table the decision was rejected 4-1.

However, Renfro was not ready to vote and demanded to know how the district would pay for transportation and the exact start times at each school.

“I’ve got five kids. I’m running every direction. These people are going to run too,” Renfro said. “You’re saying you want to recommend (plan) No. 1 because Mr. Thomas wants to do that, but what about one of the other ones? What about keeping all-day kindergarten in each school instead of shuffling...,” Renfro continued as the end of her sentence was cut off by loud applause.

Board member John Lackey expressed concern about the other options’ cost.

“I have to take my superintendent’s advice because the other two options, although better options, are so much more expensive that I just don’t see how the budget can handle them,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that if we get lined up a few years from now, we can make some changes. We might want to go back to those other options. But, we just can’t afford $1.8 million dollars versus $930,000 dollars. It’s just a prohibitive expense to do the nicer options.”

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