Although it was not scheduled as a specific agenda item, parent proponents made their case when the meeting was opened to public discussion. Crystal Bichalski spoke on behalf of the group, citing the benefits of a full-day program as providing more educational and developmental opportunities than other kinds of child care, easing the transition to first grade by including lunch and recess, increasing time spent on the curriculum that is currently jammed into four hours, providing teachers with more time for one-on-one instruction, scoring better on standardized tests, and fostering social skills with more interaction. Charity Dacey and Stacey Perry also shared their sentiments for making the change. This group of parents is taking full advantage of modern communications tools to win support, setting up a Facebook page called Full-Day-K-For-Verona-NJ.
While Verona public schools have never had a full-day kindergarten, the question returns to the BOE agenda regularly enough that the Board has dubbed it the “Full-Day Kindergarten Comet.” BOE President John Quattrocchi addressed the group’s concerns, noting that, to have a full-day kindergarten program, Verona would have to stretch an already tight budget. Quattrocchi said that running a full-day program would come with a six-figure price tag costing about $150,000 annually or $30 per taxpayer. With school budget increases capped at 2% under New Jersey law, the Board would likely have to cut into other programs to accommodate an extra cost even that small. And even if the money is found, there may be a problem of space: The kindergarten class that will enter Verona schools in the fall of this year is rumored to be so large in some areas of town that some children may not be able to attend the school closest to their home.
(Verona is not without options, however, for those who need full-day school. Both Our Lady of the Lake School and Community Montessori Academy have full-day kindergartens; The Children’s House has an afternoon “enrichment” program. The Montclair YMCA operates an extended care program in the afternoons at the elementary schools.)
Despite the added cost and the space constraints, the BOE made it known that Verona’s new superintendent, Steven A. Forte, has been reviewing the issues around the current four-hour kindergarten session in Verona’s public schools and the push to extend those hours. There is even consideration for a program similar to the one now operating in Roseland district, where kindergarten students go to school from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. from September to December, and then a step up to a full day–8:45 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.–for the rest of the school year. An approach like this could cost Verona less, but just how much less has not been specified.
If Verona is going to consider going over the budget cap to fun a full-day kindergarten, this could be the year to do it. Governor Christie recently signed a law that enables the BOE to move the Board’s annual election to November from April. If the Board seeks a referendum to exceed the cap on that ballot it would only need a simple majority rather than the 60% Yes vote needed for second questions on previous ballots.