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School board considers saving First Teacher

At the April 23 Sequim School District school board meeting, board members discussed the results of the April 16 community meeting where parents and staff dissected Superintendent Bill Bentley and staff's recommended cuts for the 2009-2010 school budget.

One of the hottest topics was cutting the First Teacher program, which has a proposed cut of $42,000.

First Teacher was started by Cynthia Martin 19 years ago to help educate parents of pre-kindergarten children, ages birth to 5, about proper development and nurturing to help them be successful when they begin school.

Its budget is broken down into two parts: $22,000 for monthly newsletters, written in Spanish and English, educating about parenting techniques and upcoming programs at Sequim Community School. The program employs one full-time and two part-time employees at $17,000.

Community members met in eight groups and considered the cut. Three groups agreed with Bentley's recommendation of a $42,000 cut, but five partially agreed.

Board president Sarah Bedinger said she received a 72-person petition from full supporters of the program prior to their meeting.

Bedinger said First Teacher supporters weren't entirely represented at the community meeting and she only recognized one name on the list who attended the meeting.

Board member Virginia O'Neil said since attending the meeting she has heard the most feedback about First Teacher.

"We might want to bring this to the priority list if our shortfall is less than

predicted," O'Neil said.

Bedinger did acknowledge that the program was "farthest from the classroom," but people have voiced their opinions on its importance to students' future success.

"I'm behind putting this to the top of the priority list if we do get less cuts," Walt Johnson, board member said.

First Teacher runs four days a week and is available to about 800 children in

Sequim.

Martin said they reach about 85 percent of those children and their parents through newsletters.

"In Seattle, they charge families for programs like ours, but here it is all free," Martin said.

She is optimistic that the program will be saved in some respect.

"If they keep one-fourth of it, then that'd be wonderful," Martin said.





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