Everything You Wanted to Know About Full-Day Kindergarten in Little Silver
The district held an information night at Markham on Feb. 16 that brought out about 40 residents with lots of questions.
Members of the community volleyed all manner of questions and concerns at Dr. Carolyn Kossack, superintendent of Little Silver Schools, at a meeting held by the board of education Thursday night to discuss implementing full-day Kindergarten in the district.
About 40 residents attended the information session, which provided details on the upcoming vote on March 13 for a $750,000 bond referendum to build two classrooms at Point Road School to accommodate full-day Kindergarten, and questioned the superintendent about the timing and need for the program.
Residents expressed concern over the pending revaluation of borough properties, the district taking on more debt and whether Little Silver could continue to excel with the half-day Kindergarten program as education standards become more rigorous.
Debt Service vs. Operating Budget
The superintendent said that the vote in March was on whether to increase the district's debt service, which she compared to a mortgage that is taken out to make improvements and then paid off over time, and not part of the annual tax levy. It is separate from the operating budget that encompasses most other costs for running the district, like teacher salaries, utilities and supplies.
"Are you willing to pay $25 a year?" Kossack asked the audience. "That's the question on the table right now."
A 15-year bond at 2.931 percent based on the town's average assessed home value of $501,856 would result in an annual tax increase of $25.10 once the bonds are sold, likely by January 2013.
"This is a nominal increase for the average tax payer," said Kossack, who added that a survey of local realtors found that many potential buyers with young children are looking for full-day Kindergarten programs.
Grace Stoddard, a parent with three children in the district, asked how the hiring of two new teachers for the Kindergarten, along with increased supplies, heating and electric for the classrooms, wouldn't add to the district's operating budget.
Kossack said that the district's initiative to increase revenue -- through the summer enrichment program, facilities rental fees and non-resident tuition -- has resulted in the "equivalent of one teacher." Teachers will also begin paying more for their health care when they enter a new contract phase next year.
And ultimately, Kossack said, the operating budget needs to be kept within the two-percent cap or it would have to be put out for a vote to be approved by taxpayers.
March vote: "It doesn't feel right."
Many residents said they felt the vote in March was rushed and questioned whether it could be moved to November, which some reasoned would allow for the revaluation to be completed and possibly increase voter turnout.
"It doesn't feel right," said Rick Scott of the March vote, acknowledging that the school board was unaware of the upcoming revaluation when it decided to move forward with the referendum.
The decision in January by the borough's council to move forward with a proposed revaluation of Little Silver, with tax bills not due in mailboxes until this summer, has some residents concerned about rising taxes.
"You're asking us to vote when we don't know what we can afford," said Scott, who said that had he known when he bought his house on Point Road 20 years ago that taxes would increase about 400 percent, he would have bought some place else.
As reported by Patch, the board agreed in September to move forward with the March vote after a study of existing space determined the need for construction.
Board President Kevin Brennan said that the March vote allowed the district to take advantage of low interest rates and have the project completed by the start of the 2013-2014 school year. Pushing the election to November, which Brennan said he didn't even know was possible as the district had already filed with the county and state, would delay the program one year.
The board began to study the feasibility of full-day Kindergarten after it was targeted by the community as part of the five-year strategic plan in April 2008. A committee charged with investigating the program worked over a few years on researching and visiting full-day programs in neighboring towns. The district surveyed parents last summer about interest in a full-day program in Little Silver and found that 78 percent of respondents were in favor of it.
"This is not a new issue to Little Silver," said the superintendent. "The community will have to decide if the timing is right."
"How much better can we get?"
One thing most in the audience seemed to agree on was the excellence of the school district, which lead some to wonder why a full-day program was necessary when students consistently outperform neighboring schools in standardized tests.
"I'm not sure how much better we can get," said Scott, whose three children went through the district.
Nick Barbato, who said he'd lived in Little Silver for 30 years and opposed the referendum, said, "We've done pretty good without a full-day Kindergarten."
Kossack said, "Things are not the same as when we were in Kindergarten, or even three or five years ago."
She added, "There are new rigorous standards for our kids, and we have a limited time frame to teach them a lot of information."
Kossack also cited research in support of full-day Kindgergarten for creating a foundation for children's education.
"As the educational leader of this district," she said, "I think instructionally, it's the right thing to do."
Valerie Guerrero, who sends her Kindergarten-aged daughter to the full-day program at Leapfrog Learning Center in Shrewsbury this year, said that she did so because she did not want her child to fall behind other children who went out-of-district to full-day programs.
"As a mom, I wanted the best for my daughter," she said, and added that her family was willing to make sacrifices to afford that advantage. "I think it is am important thing for our children."
Editor's Note: The author served as a member of the Little Silver Board of Education from 2008-2011.