Full-day kindergarten in Stonington budget plan for 2013-14

Stonington - New Superintendent of Schools Van Riley presented the Board of Education with a proposed 2013-14 budget Thursday night that calls for a major addition to the school system - the addition of full-day kindergarten for all students.

Although moving to all-day kindergarten has occasionally been discussed by the board in the past, it was always discounted, mostly because of the cost.

But Riley said all the educational research shows the benefits of all day kindergarten, which he said also aligns with the school board's goal of closing achievement gaps.

In addition, he pointed out that 103 school districts, eight charter schools and 11 magnet schools in the state already provide full day kindergarten for all students. That accounts for 74 percent of all Connecticut kindergartners.

"So we're behind," he said.

While it was always thought full-day kindergarten would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the school budget because of the cost of hiring additional teachers, Riley's plan would only result in a $75,000 increase for materials, supplies and paraprofessionals. The additional 4.5 teachers that would be needed would be transferred from existing staff slightly increasing class sizes in some other grades. No additional classroom space would be needed.

Riley has also revised how the budget is formatted and presented in an effort so it is much more detailed and better shows how money is being spent.

Riley's $33.9 million proposal would increase the current budget by $974,588 or 2.95 percent. That would result in about a one-third of a mill increase in the tax rate. "There are some major good things in this budget within a very conservative request," he told the school board, adding that would have "a long-term positive impact on our children."

He said he was proud of the budget proposal and said a 2.95 percent increase to do these things is "proper and appropriate."

He said administrators and staff thoroughly examined all the line items and provided rationale for proposed spending.

"There is no padding or fluff anywhere in this budget," he said.

The proposal would also restore the $17,000 that the board cut from sports programs in the current budget and provide $14,000 in basic funding for all sports except crew. Riley said crew was not included because there was an understanding when it was created that it would be self-funded.

It would also add $66,000 so facilitators and deans would be reclassified as assistant principals. These staff members were hired under those titles to save money.

Riley said he has also asked the Board of Finance to allow the school system to take money from the teacher retirement reserve account to address emergencies as there is no contingency account in the budget. The money would be replaced in the following year's budget.

The school board will now hold budget workshops on Jan. 17 and Jan. 24. A public forum is scheduled for Feb. 7 and the board is slated to approve a budget on Feb. 14. All meetings will be at 7 p.m. at the high school.

Last year after the Board of Finance cut $156,215 from the budget, a large group of school supporters attended a public hearing and convinced the board to use more money from its $11.5 million undesignated fund balance to offset the school budget cut.

Voters, though, rejected the budget and its .42-mill tax increase at the first referendum. The finance board then made additional cuts including trimming $300,000 from the $1.3 million school budget increase. Voters passed the proposed budget and its .26-mill tax rate increase at the second referendum.

j.wojtas@theday.com

SCHOOL CALENDAR SELECTED

Stonington - The Board of Education approved a 2013-14 school calendar Thursday that calls for school to open Aug. 28 and end June 11, 2104, with make-up days June 12 through June 26.

The calendar, retains the April vacation and four-day President's Day weekend.

The board chose the calendar from three options, including one that would not start school until after Labor Day.

The calendar also aligns with the regional calendar, which is designed to help area school systems save money on transportation and staff training.

- Joe Wojtas

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