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St. Helens hashes out full-day kindergarten

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - St. Helens School District board members discuss the potential of launching full-day kindergarten this coming fall, prior to receiving state funding for such a program the following year. The St. Helens School District could institute full-day kindergarten by next school year, the school board heard Wednesday, May 14 — but parents would have to pay for the privilege.

Oregon will provide full funding for full-day kindergarten classes beginning in fall 2015, but some parents want to see them sooner. Superintendent Mark Davalos provided a draft plan for what the program might cost to implement in the 2014-15 school year.

Davalos said to launch such a program before receiving state funding, families that don’t qualify for free or reduced tuition would have to pay at least $3,000, or $300 per month, for all-day kindergarten. That tuition would be needed to cover the district’s costs to offer the classes.

“I’m not sure we’re prepared for full-day K, but we could definitely move in that direction,” Davalos said.

Board members disagreed over whether to implement full-day kindergarten next school year.

“I really think we should move forward,” said Chairman Marshall Porter. “At least we’d be trying to get it to work. I think we’d [avoid] a chance to lose students just because of that.”

But board member Gordon Jarman said it is too late to implement the program by fall, and he is leery of imposing tuition on families.

“I really don’t like being selective and saying, ‘Well, you can go if you have the money,’” Jarman said. “I’d like to include everybody on this, but I don’t think, obviously, we can afford that.”

Kellie Smith said she wouldn’t personally pay for such a program, but she agreed with Porter that it would attract families to the school district.

Davalos indicated he would rather wait for state funding to kick in to fund the program.

“There’s a lot of work going in to helping prepare to launch full-day K the following year, and to do it thoughtfully and with good training and preparation,” Davalos said.

The board took no action on the issue at Wednesday’s work session.

Full-day kindergarden was attempted at McBride Elementary School in the 2010-11 school year, but it did not generate enough interest among parents to fund the program.

Currently, the state only funds kindergarten students at half the rate of all other K-12 students, prompting many districts to offer only a half-day of kindergarden.