WESTFIELD, NJ — Full-day kindergarten may soon become a reality in Westfield’s public schools, but not without additional funding.
After a workshop discussion Tuesday night, the school board recommended the district put forth a March 2020 referendum that would secure part of the funding needed for a full-day kindergarten program starting in September 2022. The district is also considering making kindergarten placements fluid among multiple schools, rather than school designation based on home address, in order to have greater flexibility.
Board President Peggy Oster, Vice President Amy Root and members Kent Diamond, Brendan Galligan, Robert Garrison and Brian Morrissey said they would support the introduction of the referendum, while board members Gretchan Ohlig, Michael Bielen and Tara Oporto said they would not.
The March 2020 referendum, a bond referendum that would cover the cost of construction, would be the first of two public measures necessary to fund the kindergarten expansion, according to Business Administrator Dana Sullivan, who gave the presentation to the board. The district would use the money from this bond referendum to add about eight or nine classrooms each to Washington and Jefferson elementary schools. District estimates presented at the workshop show it would cost about $4.5 million to add seven classrooms to Jefferson and between $4.2 and $5.5 million to add seven classrooms to Washington.
The public would vote on this referendum during a special election in March 2020, which would cost the district approximately $110,000 in fees to hold.
The second public measure, a proposal that would approve the increase in the district’s operating budget in order to fund teacher salaries, would be introduced in November 2021.
If both measures were to pass, full-day kindergarten would be available in Westfield’s public schools beginning September 2022.
The operating budget would need to increase by approximately $3 million to hire approximately 18 to 20 teachers for full-day kindergarten, Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said during the workshop. This would amount to an estimated tax levy increase of $285 for the average Westfield homeowner (with a home valued at $795,159) for the 2021-2022 school year, with the potential to increase in future years.
The district estimates the following tax levy amounts year-to-year if the kindergarten expansion were to occur:
- 2019-2020 – $101,420,397
- 2020-2021 – $103,448,805 (Tax Levy Increase: 2%)
- 2021-2022 – $108,517,781 (Tax Levy Increase: 4.9%)
- 2022-2023 – $107,688,137 (Tax Levy Decrease: 0.7%)
- 2023-2024 – $112,901,920 (Tax Levy Increase: 4.8%)
Sullivan said that the district has considered possible expansions at Tamaques, Franklin, McKinley and Lincoln schools and the Board of Education building, as well as using facilities not owned by the district, and that these plans were not feasible. The district also considered housing classrooms in trailers or shipping containers, but deemed that this was not a reasonable option for the district, Sullivan said.
The district has been considering expanding the kindergarten program in recent years.
During the workshop, board member Robert Garrison highlighted the results of a 2017 survey conducted by the board to gauge support of kindergarten expansion. Approximately 70% of respondents were in favor of expanding kindergarten, Garrison said, while approximately 30% were opposed. Despite this, the board decided not to move forward with kindergarten expansion in 2017.
Two parents spoke in favor of full-day kindergarten during a board meeting last month. Both had recently moved to Westfield from other parts of New Jersey where full-day kindergarten is available.
Westfield is among the 10% of school districts in New Jersey that currently do not have full-day kindergarten, Superintendent Margaret Dolan said during the workshop. However, Westfield does offer a kindergarten Wrap Program at Lincoln, which includes several enrichment activities for students. Parents may request their child be placed in the Wrap Program, but placements are not available for every student. Several Westfield kindergarten students attend out-of-district full-day programs, several board members said during the workshop.
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