BRIDGEWATER, NJ - After several meetings of the K-8 Steering Committee to focus on the implementation of full day kindergarten, it was the recommendation that the district wait until 2017 to possibly move forward.
Initial meetings in September and October focused on breaking down enrollment and the financial elements of implementing full day kindergarten.
At the Oct. 24 meeting, according to superintendent Victor Hayek, principals from each of the elementary schools presented their plans for the program’s implementation, graduating third and fourth graders and projecting enrollment levels.
It was determined that Hamilton Primary would be ready for full day kindergarten, as would Milltown Primary.
Van Holten Primary would need additional specials sections, and Crim Primary would possibly need to repurpose the teacher’s workroom to become a classroom. John F. Kennedy Primary would also be feasible with possibly the addition of a lunch period.
Bradley Gardens Primary had the least amount of bathrooms for classrooms, as required by state law for kindergarten classes, so at least one more would need to be built for adjoining classrooms. Additional sections of physical education would be needed, but it would be tight because the gym is also the cafeteria.
Adamsville, Hayek said, proves to be the biggest challenge because of the pre-k program, and the need for more bathrooms to accommodate kindergarten.
“We would have to move the pre-k program out, or substantially increase class sizes,” he said. “We thought about moving pre-k out of Adamsville, but that defeats the purpose, so we were thinking of creative ways to move it out and lease the space somewhere else.”
Hayek said there have also been discussions on reconfiguring the schools, making the middle school grades six through eight, the intermediate schools four and five and the primary schools kindergarten through third.
“We did realize that we were just chopping and dicing and making things complicated,” he said. “It didn’t solve much of the space problem.”
But given the projected enrollment numbers, Hayek said, it could be a possibility to plan for the implementation in September 2017 when the current third grade is in sixth grade and those school reconfigurations could be made.
“Based on the enrollment projections, BRMS would be 1,800 students, which is a possibility,” he said. “It would require some creative scheduling and utilizing all the classroom space.”
“It gives us the ability to plan for staffing over the three years, improve class size efficiency and take advantage of the time to do more detailed planning,” he added.
On Nov. 24, Hayek said, the committee met again to put a focus on the finances. Because staffing and benefits are 75 percent of the budget, he said, they determined that they can’t add full day kindergarten without severely impacting the current programs and staffing.
There is the option to ask the voters to increase the budget over the 2 percent cap to accommodate the program, but the first opportunity to do that would be November 2015, for implementation in September 2016.
Hayek said they examined some other options, including becoming a choice district to take students from other districts, accepting students from other districts for academy programs or other tuition revenue programs.
“There are two possible directions,” he said. “Either put out the second question and leave it to the voters to enable us to increase the budget, or closely monitor enrollment over the next three years and reevaluate as space opens up.”
Board president Jeffrey Brookner said he went into this process optimistic and with no intention of supporting putting the budget up for a ballot vote.
“But I have concluded that in the foreseeable future, there is no way we could pull off full day kindergarten without the second question,” he said.
The budget, Brookner said, always increases because there is a 1.3 percent increase in salaries and another 1.2 percent increase in benefits.
“In my opinion and the committee’s opinion, unless we are talking about cutting programs, doing something drastic like that, we do not have the resources to add something huge,” he said.
No decisions have been made yet on the future of full day kindergarten implementation.