River Forest School District 90 will not offer full-day kindergarten next year. If and when they do — as early as 2012 — they may charge tuition. Those were the initial conclusions reached in the district's first discussion of full-day kindergarten at a Dist. 90 Committee of the Whole Meeting on Jan. 3.
In a packed Roosevelt Middle School library, the board listened to recommendations of a group of 10 Dist. 90 teachers and administrators. But the board stressed that no decision could be made before next year's kindergarten registration is completed early next month.
"You don't see any bulldozers parked out in front," said board President JuliAnn Geldner.
The committee presented data from neighboring private and public schools — all of which have adopted full-day kindergarten. They also presented data from 23 "comparative" school districts such as Glencoe, Riverside and Hinsdale. More than half of those communities did not offer full-day kindergarten.
Between 60 and 80 local children attend half-day kindergarten at River Forest public schools. Around 100 River Forest children attend full-day programs at local private schools. Oak Park has 595 full-day kindergarteners enrolled — partially paid for by state grants for the 17 percent of children who receive special services. "If state funds were actually paid, [they'd be] coming out ahead," says the report.
One teacher pointed out that full-day students were given "the gift of time" to process the ever-increasing academic demands of kindergarten as well as to learn social and emotional skills like getting along with others and controlling their emotions.
Three versions of full-day kindergarten were proposed:
1. A full-day academic kindergarten.
2. A half-day academic/half-day "extended day" with enrichment activities.
3. A "hybrid" of two extended half-days and three full academic days.
On-site and off-site locations were proposed, including the hypothetical purchase of the 85,000-square-foot former Hines Lumber company property on Madison Street for $2.5 million. However, Lincoln Principal Pam Hyde said an on-site program would be preferable for integrating kindergarten students into school. Hyde said both Lincoln and Willard elementary schools were designed to support second stories. Costs for building a second story on each school for eight extra classrooms (four sections per school) was $2.1 million.
Staff costs would be significantly cheaper for the projected 60-80 kindergarten students with a tuition-based, extended-day option, since classes could be staffed by a teachers' aide instead of a certified teacher.
The board was told that tuition could be charged for extended-day classes, since those activities would qualify as "enrichment." The proposals recommended charging between $20 and $25 per day for the extended-day and hybrid options. This figure was arrived at by comparing prices at five local private schools. Projected revenues for the extended-day option — with no certified teacher and charging tuition — came in between $420,000 and $560,000.
"[Sometimes we forget] schools are a business," said Superintendent Thomas Hagerman.
No tuition could be charged if the board chose to go to a full-day academic schedule. Costs for 4.5 new full-time certified teachers were estimated at $328,635.
Parent Nichole Thompson said she hoped the board would choose a full-day academic program. She said children had trouble transitioning to a full-day of school even if, like hers, they attended half-day programs at River Forest Community Center or other local half-day options. She pointed out that kindergarten-age children wouldn't be too tired in a full-day setting: "They don't get tired on the weekends!"
Rich Moore, parent of three, said he was relieved the board was not making a hasty decision. "Give us parents the gift of time," he said. He was concerned about the off-site proposal and worried that the curriculum would be revised hurriedly.
"I don't like the idea of a half-day with an uncertified teacher," he said later.