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School district families weigh kindergarten alternatives

With no half-day option at Stafford or Sunset, families can pay tuition or transfer students


Some Stafford Primary School families were surprised by a piece of kindergarten news tucked into a message sent out by Principal Jen Freeborn on July 16.

“At this time,” the message read, “we do not have enough students enrolled to support a half-day class at Stafford.”

In the message, Freeborn indicated that she would contact each family who would be affected.

Saleen Chenevert didn’t wait for Freeborn to call. Her son, Ethan, 5, had been looking forward to boarding the bus with neighborhood friends and his sister, fifth-grader Brigitte, for the ride to Stafford.

by: FILE PHOTO - Stafford Primary School will offer two full-day kindergarten classes for 2013-14 but no half-day option.“After I got the email there was a small panic,” Chenevert said. She waited a day and then emailed a reply to Freeborn.

“She called me back and said they were waiting as long as they could to see if more kids enrolled,” Chenevert said. “She wanted parents to have as much time as possible” to consider the options available to them: switching their child’s enrollment to the tuition-based full-day kindergarten program or moving the child to a school that offered a half-day program and had room to accept more students. The district would provide bus transportation.

Kathy Ludwig, West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s assistant superintendent, said that half-day kindergarten was being offered at every primary school in the district except Stafford and Sunset. Each school’s class, however, was filled to capacity, with one exception.

“We have plenty of room and a lovely classroom at Cedaroak and we’ll even get you there,” Ludwig said. “And, of course, you’ll come back to (your home school) for first grade.”

Ludwig mentioned another option for parents who wanted to stay at their home school but did not want to pay the $3,510 tuition required for full-day kindergarten. Such families, she said, could look into leaving their kindergartner at Stafford or Sunset in a full-day class if they were willing to pick up the student at lunch each day, essentially carving out a half-day experience of their own.

“We gladly want the children, and we’ll do our best to accommodate them,” Ludwig said.

At Sunset, Principal Lisa Hawking said most families who had initially selected the half-day program had opted to enroll their children in the full-day, tuition-based program. She said Sunset administrators were working with families to provide financial support if needed or to work out a flexible schedule that would allow children attending all-day classes to be picked up after a half-day session.

“Like last year, I am working flexibly with individual situations (and) schedules to ensure families feel comfortable their child’s individual needs will be met,” Hawking said.

At Stafford, current projections indicate the school will have two full-day kindergarten classes. The district could not confirm projected numbers for those classrooms, saying it was too early to predict enrollments.

Deputy Superintendent Jane Stickney said, “The district and principals are working hard to have all classes supported with the strongest staffing ratios possible.”

In years past the district occasionally has not offered the full-day option at every school each year due to lack of interest from families. However, the district has noticed a trend in the past few years that could indicate families are starting to prefer full-day kindergarten. In the 2011-12 school year, WL-WV schools had 12 full-day kindergarten classes, with one or more half-day classes at each primary school. Last year, WL-WV had 16 all-day programs, with half-day at every school but Sunset.

Oregon lawmakers in 2011 approved a bill requiring school districts to offer full-day kindergarten and allowing them to receive full funding from the state for kindergartners attending full-day programs. Once that law goes into effect in 2015, WL-WV will no longer charge tuition for all-day kindergarten. In the meantime, Ludwig said, the district does have options for families that find the tuition to be an obstacle.

“If you need financial assistance, work with us,” she said. “There is a lot of benefit to being in school all day.”

Families who receive free or reduced-price lunches may qualify for tuition waivers, according to Ludwig.

Some families, like the Cheneverts, can afford to pay the tuition but still prefer the half-day program.

“As a stay-at-home mom who goes to the library and is a member of the zoo, OMSI and the Children’s Museum, paying for all-day kindergarten is an unnecessary cost,” Chenevert said.

Even so, her family opted to enroll Ethan in the all-day program rather than send him to Cedaroak.

“Since we’ve spent two years telling him he’ll follow in his siblings’ footsteps in attending Stafford, and he’s been to the parties and annual events there already, he’s excited to go to Stafford,” she said. “To take that away and send him to another school and then start Stafford a year later ... it just seemed cruel to do (that) to him.”

Chenevert called her family’s decision to pay tuition next year “a sacrifice” her family was willing to make because of their commitment to Ethan’s educational experience.

“We understand why the district has to do what it does,” she said. “So we’re making the best of the situation.”




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