All-day kindergarten is expected to begin districtwide this coming school year.
As is, both the state’s Senate and House 2015-2017 biennium budget proposals intend to fully fund all-day kindergarten and both Helen Haller and Greywolf elementary schools would qualify, Sequim School District Superintendent Kelly Shea said. However, until the Legislature agrees on a single budget, Shea cautions nothing is certain.
Time and cost, prepare
Sequim School officials were first notified that Helen Haller Elementary qualified for all-day kindergarten funding based on its percentage of free and reduced lunch in July 2013.
At Helen Haller Elementary, 58 percent of the students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, whereas at Greywolf Elementary, 45 percent qualify.
Despite the state’s offer, district officials didn’t accept at that time.
By putting off offering all-day kindergarten at one school and not the other, district officials have been able to adequately prepare for all-day kindergarten, Shea explained. The decision also eliminated the concept of favoritism.
“We would have had only six weeks to get ready,” Shea said. “Also, with only two elementary schools in the district, we try to stay away from ‘have and have-not.’”
Instead, by opting to wait, district officials have spread the cost of preparation over multiple annual budgets. Within the past two years, district officials spent $514,767 to prepare for all-day kindergarten, according to Brian Lewis, Sequim School District business manager.
These monies from the general fund bought the school’s furniture and space necessary to accommodate all-day kindergarten.
Regardless of whether reduced class size is required for grades K-3, to accommodate all-day kindergarten alone, district officials purchased four portables to provide the space necessary.
Although “fully funded” implies no cost impacts to the individual school district, Lewis explained the state funds the teachers’ salary schedules and benefits — leaving other costs associated up to the individual school district.
Between 2013 and 2017, after hiring more teachers, classroom aides, the curriculum, supplies, furniture and portables, the district will spend an about $1.28 million after the state reimbursement of $988,000, Lewis said.
Following the 2016-2017 academic year and the one-time costs with readying for all-day kindergarten are accounted for, the annual cost of all-day kindergarten for the Sequim School District is about $845,000, Lewis said. After the state reimbursement, the annual cost to the district would be $351,000.
Adding to the Sequim School District’s six kindergarten teachers that equate to five full-time positions, Lewis said the district likely will hire five more kindergarten teachers. However, district officials won’t post the positions until the Legislature confirms fully funding all-day kindergarten for both Helen Haller and Greywolf elementary schools.
“We’ve also had about eight or 10 teachers retire this year,” Shea said.
To help with the hiring process, district officials developed a recruiting video to share at job fairs.
“We might need to hire 16 to 18 teachers,” Shea said. “We don’t get as many applicants as districts in larger areas.”
Shea is hopeful the recruiting video will help increase the number of teachers interested in applying to the Sequim School District by highlighting the area, lifestyle and opportunities available.
Another adjustment on Shea’s mind in preparation for all-day kindergarten is the schools’ ability to feed the extra students.
“Right now kindergarteners don’t eat at school because they either leave before or come after lunch,” he said.
Lewis estimates 170 kindergarteners next year and although feeding the kindergarteners won’t adversely impact the district’s food cost, he said, the scheduling becomes somewhat of an issue.
For example, at Greywolf Elementary the gym also is the cafeteria, but with more students needing to use that shared, multi-purpose space, Shea and his colleagues are posed with how to “create more time for lunch and gym use when the beginning and end of the day are fixed,” Shea said.
Regardless of the challenges associated with transitioning to all-day kindergarten, as the area’s economic status shifts, Shea recognizes the positive potential all-day kindergarten brings for students.
“I think all-day kindergarten is going to be extremely important with our changing demographic,” Shea said. “Those qualified for the free and reduced lunch program have almost doubled in the last decade.”
Lewis agreed, noting when he began at the district in 2008 only 33 percent of the district’s students qualified for free and reduced lunch.
“All children benefit from all-day kindergarten, but some benefit more,” Lewis said.
Additionally, in talking with the district’s existing kindergarten teachers, Shea said, they are “excited” about the possibility of all-day kindergarten because it allows them more time with their students and thus ability to accomplish more.
“Quality time is what can make a positive impact,” Shea said.
A parent or guardian’s decision to enroll a child into all-day kindergarten is optional, but by 2018 it won’t be optional for Washington school districts to offer it – joining 11 other states that require all-day kindergarten.
Sequim School District 2015-2016 kindergarten enrollment opens Monday, May 4.