Schools Superintendent John Brackett presented a proposal to the School Committee recently to introduce a fee-based, full-day kindergarten next year, which, he said, would not affect the budget or the $700,000 that must be cut next year.
In its preliminary expense reduction report, the Budget Review Task Force recommended the kindergarten program, which it said would free up $385,000 for other operating expenses.
The task force also identified a Massachusetts kindergarten development grant of up to $15,000 per classroom that may be available to cover transition costs. Other grants may also be available from the Department of Education.
Full-day kindergarten was a goal when officials studied the issue years ago, but a lack of classroom space has been a stumbling block.
After talking with principals, nine rooms were made available. Recently, that number has grown to 13.
There is still not enough room for all of the children, so school officials say they will hold a lottery.
“We are hoping that at least 50 percent of incoming kindergarten students in each school (with exception of Haynes) will have an opportunity to be in full-day kindergarten,” said Brackett.
About eight years ago, a survey, conducted by a consultant, showed residents overwhelmingly supported a full-day kindergarten program and they would pay for it, said Brackett.
“But this is a different time and a different economy and that’s why we are not making a blanket assumption that demand is still high,” he said.
“Many full-day kindergartens are fee-based,” Brackett said. “So ours would certainly be. We would use a sliding scale the state provides so income and household size would be factors in determining what the actual tuition would be.”
Sudbury is looking at charging a fee of $5,000. Fees in neighboring towns range from $2,500 to $4,000, with some as high as $6,000, said Brackett.
“Clearly, this is at the higher end,” he said. “We did not want to provide a program that undercuts them. We had to have the tuition at a rate that drives our financial goal of being revenue-generating.”
Assuming Sudbury Extended Day continues to run before and after school programs, the full-day program would also eliminate the need for children to ride the bus.
The district will conduct a survey of parents of 5-year-olds to get an indication of how many are interested in the program. If demand is greater than the number of seats, admission will be done on a lottery basis at each school.
Brackett plans to make a final recommendation to the school committee March 11. “If it’s something they think meets the policies and goals of the district, then we will move forward for the fall,” he said.
If the program generates a profit, the district plans to set money aside to acquire more classroom space.
“We are excited about the possibilities,” said Brackett. “It will not have an impact on the budget,…It’s hard to justify cutting out $700,000 while adding programs.
“If costs can’t cover expenses, it won’t run,” he said.Brackett says he realizes not every parent will want full-day kindergarten, so half-day kindergarten will continue to be offered without an additional fee.