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It was a virtual sea of green at the Jan. 27 Board of Education public hearing as upwards of 85 residents showed up wearing the green in support of the full-day kindergarten program, which is part of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman's proposed budget to the Board of Education.
Freeman explained that since the last time the budget was discussed approximately two weeks ago, more numbers were crunched and now the cost for the full-day kindergarten program has been slightly reduced. This makes his new total budget increase 3.07 percent over the current year's budget. According to these latest figures, $462,500 would be needed to fund full-day kindergarten, less than one percent of the total $56,162,377 proposed budget.
The full-day kindergarten monies include salaries for six full-time teachers at a cost of $390,000, the largest cost of the program; six part-time para-professionals who will be in the classroom half a day for each class; additional appropriately sized classroom furniture; and extra needed materials as well as monies for professional development. The projected class size for full-day kindergarten, if it is left in the budget, is 16 to 19 students.
Freeman stated, "Including everything, this budget is a 3.07 increase over the last budget and it includes all the investments we believe are needed at this time. In this town we receive a tremendous amount for our investment in education. We do well by our kids in every area and we continue to improve year over year."
Without full day kindergarten, the proposed increase would be 2.22 percent over the current budget.
A well-organized group of parents clad in green voiced its support of the full-day kindergarten program, citing reasons such as child preparedness, peer competition (since the surrounding towns all have full-day kindergarten), and concern that now, with the recent implementation of the Common Core practices, the children need more time in school to learn the necessary required skills and still have time to work on things like social and fine motor skills.
Angela Tschudy voiced the perspective of a military family in town, stating, "I know we have to move from Guilford after my child finishes kindergarten, and I am worried that if Guilford doesn't offer full-day kindergarten that when I need to move, my child will be behind in whatever school we move to. This will affect her entire educational experience, so I urge the board to pass the budget and include full-day kindergarten for the next school year."
Others, such as pediatrician Karen Goldman, explained that 2 ½ hours of kindergarten is simply not enough time.
"Most of us moved to Guilford in part because of the great school system. Eighty percent of the schools around us offer full-day kindergarten. If they can afford it, we can, too," she said.
Sean Scanlon explained that although he doesn't currently have children in the school system, he hopes to one day and he feels that "it's the public school's responsibility to our children to provide the best early childhood education. This will change the lives of our children and affect their future success in education. The new high school signals that we are striving for the best, and that was passed at a 70 percent referendum by voters. We can't ignore our lagging in early childhood education. Our schools are our best asset and that will only exist if we continue to make it our priority. This is a relatively inexpensive investment in our town's future."
From the point of view of a longtime resident who is also a realtor in town, Christine Fappiano pointed out that buyers looking in the area are looking for good schools and the offering of full-day kindergarten is one point of concern.
"Guilford is looked at as an ideal place to raise a family. Adding full-day kindergarten is an expenditure that seems worthwhile," Fappiano said. "Let's not forget our younger generation in town; their future is in our hands."
Not all who spoke were in favor of the full-day kindergarten proposal. Nicole Alley told the audience and the board that she believes education is critical and important, but her concern is that the pre-kindergarten program has not had a chance to get on board with preparing the children for full-day kindergarten yet.
"I am concerned about our children's stamina. Are they ready for a full day of school at this age?" she asked. "I just want that to be taken into consideration."
Nadine Jerbi also opposed to the full-day program, stating that "part of what is unique about Guilford is that we can stay home here with our children. I am not voting for full-day kindergarten because I want my kids home with me and I feel that not every voice was heard here tonight. Sometimes parents have better options than sending their kids to school all day."
While the full-day kindergarten proposal occupied the bulk of the lengthy meeting, Board of Education Chair Bill Bloss encouraged residents to review the entire budget proposal, noting that the full Board of Education budget is on the board's website, www.guilford.k12.ct.us.
"We want our budget to be transparent and we encourage everyone to go over the budget and let us know their feelings via email. The budget is still a work in progress and we deeply appreciate everyone who came out tonight to voice your opinions," Bloss said. "This is a great testament to the involvement you have as taxpayers and citizens."