The Aim: To extend Verona’s current kindergarten day to 2:45 p.m. from 12:30 p.m. New Jersey does not now have any requirement for how long a kindergarten day must be, but about 80% of the state’s school district do have a full-day program. State learning standards are becoming more rigorous by the year and Verona’s school administrators say there isn’t enough time in the day to teach everything that we should be teaching our kindergarteners. If the measure passes, full-day kindergarten would begin in January for the second half of the 2018-2019 school year and run for the full school year beginning with 2010-2020.
The Cost: $215,000 or roughly $42 extra per average household in the first year. Some of the money will go to expanding the salary of Verona’s kindergarten teachers from 77% of a full-day salary to 100%. The proposal also covers the cost of two additional lunch aides per school because the new school day will include lunch time, as well as extra supplies. There would be no additional benefits cost for current teachers because they all get full benefits even though they do not work a full day. Lunch aides do not get benefits.
The Pros and Cons: There was a lengthy presentation on the full-day K question at the May 22 BOE meeting, which you can watch here. The district has created fact sheets with what it believes are the reasons to approve the question. But some questions about the question remain.
The measure will add 90 minutes of instruction to every school day, and another 45 minutes for lunch and recess. The extra instructional time will add the equivalent of 45 ore days of teaching time in a school year. That could help the handful of kindergarten students who need reading intervention now and reduce the larger number of first-grade students who need reading intervention. But at the May 22 meeting, board member Michele Bernardino, who is also an elementary school teacher, asked whether cutting into on unstructured play time–kids can’t be out playing if they are in school–would have a negative impact on children’s so-called executive function skills. These skills include the flexible thinking that would seem to be an important part of the inquiry-based curriculum that Verona wants to develop in other grades.
At the May 22 BOE meeting, Verona’s four elementary school principals presented studies showing that learning improved after full-day K programs were implemented. But the studies were done in poorer, urban school districts, so the results may not be the same here. It’s also not clear whether Verona students now lag those in other districts because we do not have full-day K. MyVeronaNJ.com’s analysis of Verona’s standardized test scores for the 2016-2017 school year (the most recent data available) found third-grade PARCC scores in language arts and math slightly below some–but not all–of our comparable school districts. Verona’s SAT scores for the same school year, however, were largely on par with those same districts.
The $215,000 being sought through the ballot question covers only the first-year cost of the program. In the future, the kindergarten budget can increase by only 2% per year, just like the main budget. There is no padding in the base budget, so if costs for running the kindergarten program increase by more than 2% per year in the future, or if more children enroll in kindergarten, Verona could find itself short of funding for the program. One of the ways of managing that might be by managing school assignment: Your kindergartener might not get to attend the school closest to home if the class at your school rises above 25 students, the level at which Verona typically hires an extra teacher.