SPARTA, NJ - Beginning next fall, Sparta could be one of only three districts is Sussex County not offering a full-day kindergarten program.
At their last meeting, the Sparta Board of Education members rejected the recommendation of Superintendent Dennis Tobin and Curriculum Director Dr Melissa Varley to implement full-day kindergarten. It was a 5-3 vote with Brenda Beebe, Richard Bladek, Frank Favichia, Jack Surdoval and Kim Yoemans voting no. Kelly McEvoy, Todd Muth and Karen Scott voted yes.
With recent action by Byram to approve full-day kindergarten for the upcoming year, and Hopatcong set to vote on the issue at their March meeting, Sparta will likely be one of only three district is Sussex County not offering a full-day program next fall.
Rather than use the $1.033 million in banked cap funding to support a full-day program, as recommended by Tobin and Varley, the board voted instead to use $700,000 of that money to make capital improvements. The board did not specify what capital projects would be targeted for that money.
At the meeting, board president Karen Scott said she supported using the bank cap and the realignment "in the hope that full day kindergarten would come back for consideration next year."
Any banked cap funds not added to the 2014-2015 budget will expire, and will no longer available to the district. The banked cap funds that are used become part of the base budget, available every year.
Should the district seek to implement full-day kindergarten in the future, or be required to do so by the state, the balance of the projected cost for that program would have to be found by cutting existing staff and programming according to Tobin. Business Administrator Linda Alvarez has estimated the cost for full-day kindergarten to be just over $1 million.
The most recent data available from New Jersey State Department of Education for 2012-2013 shows of the counties in north Jersey, including Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren, 79.6 percent of District Factor Grouping "I" and "J" districts offer full-day kindergarten:
- Bergen County 21 of 26 districts
- Essex County 11 of 12 districts
- Morris County 12 of 16 districts
- Sussex County 2 of 3 districts
- Warren County 1 of 2 districts
- Passaic County does not have any I or J districts
This data mirrors statistics for Sussex county and the entire state. Statewide, more than 80 percent of districts offer full-day kindergarten as of the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.
Board member Jack Surdoval, when talking about his rationale for not supporting full-day kindergarten, said several times that it was primarily the low income and lower DFG districts that offer a full-day program. Surdoval claimed districts similar to Sparta, I and J districts, did not see the need for full-day kindergarten. His claims were echoed by other board members. The data does not support that assertion.
The topic of a tuition-based full-day program was initiated by Frank Favichia. Tobin explained it is not possible for a public school district to require tuition for a kindergarten program.
Once a school district offers kindergarten, regardless of the length of the day, "it must comply with all of the appropriate regulations in the administrative code," according to Rich Vespucci, spokesman for New Jersey Department of Education. Additionally, "Public schools must accept resident students older than five and younger than 20 who seek enrollment." They must receive a free education.
Board and community members have pointed to School District of the Chathams and Madison as having a tuition-based full-day program. However Chathams' superintendent Dr Michael LaSusa said, "We do not have a tuition-based full-day kindergarten program."
According to published district information, Madison has a "wrap-around program," charging $450 per month, with enrollment limited to 40 students for each school. It does not accept students with special needs. Sparta currently offers a similar program.
On Thursday, March 13 the board of education has scheduled a Special Meeting to approve a tentative budget. That budget then gets submitted to the County Superintendent for review.
The budget will likely be on the agenda at the March 24, 31 and April 21 board of education meetings. Last year, the school district budget was modified several times prior to the final budget. The 2014-2015 Budget Hearing is scheduled for April 28. After that meeting the Business Administrator Linda Alvarez will submit the final budget to the state.
These board of education meetings are scheduled to be held at Mohawk Avenue School beginning at 7:30 p.m.