The all-day kindergarten debate continues in River Forest, and there’s no shortage of questions from debaters on both sides of the argument.
At a Tuesday night meeting of the River Forest School District 90 Board of Education, Superintendent Thomas Hagerman presented the board with a booklet that included information about the financial implications of extending kindergarten to an all-day program and studies examining the academic benefits of an all-day program.
School board members debated the topic actively but left any decision to a future date.
Anthony Cozzi, director of finance and facilities for Dist. 90, projected a cost of some $2.3 million for the initial construction necessary to house an all-day kindergarten program, and a total of roughly $461,000 for initial salaries, benefits, and supplies. Ongoing expenditures for maintenance and supplies would cost some $26,000 per year, and salary and benefit payments would also be expected to rise annually.
The presentation launched a lengthy discussion in which many school board members voiced resistance to the idea of all-day kindergarten whereas Hagerman seemed to tout the advantages of implementing the program. “Generally, there are benefits for all kids,” he said, adding that it is also considered a service to parents, who like having their children in one place, among their peer group, for the full day.
But board members voiced their concern over what the ultimate costs and benefits might be.
“What really is the advantage or disadvantage of having this?” asked President Juliann Geldner, alluding to inconclusive results among the studies. Geldner said all-day programs were deemed successful primarily for a demographic of children unlike those found in River Forest.
“It seems from my read of all the documentation you provided that at poverty level or below, full-day kindergarten is a clear advantage,” she said. “I sort of like to take that and say that’s great and then focus back in on the demographics of our community, which are different.”
Board member Patrick Meyer agreed. “I’m not seeing anything particularly compelling that says, given our demographic … that we are going to see any kind of sustained improvement in our achievement,” he said.
David Latham, another board member, noted that considering the amount that would have to be spent up front and over the years to maintain a full-day program, other important programs would have to be sacrificed. He asked the board to consider what would be the district’s top five priorities for enhancing education for River Forest children.
“If we do kindergarten, we may not be able to do the other four,” he said. “I think this is a wonderful idea, and if I were a parent, I would be all for it,” he said. “But we don’t know, as a board, what our options are.”
Board member Kristen Coe said the opinions of educators should be taken into consideration. “I think it’s very important for us to see the philosophies and desires of the staff and administration because they’re our paid professionals.” But she also took issue with the idea that the program might be considered to benefit parents or replace other child care. “It’s not the school’s job to compensate for the fact that my husband and I work,” she said.
“What I’m hearing from our educators is that there is a benefit,” said board member James Weiss, though he said he did not feel that research available about those benefits was persuasive. Still, he advocated listening to the professionals. “I think it’s a good idea, and worth pursuing, if only because the people we trust are telling us that it is,” he said.
Lori Suzuki, a veteran Dist. 90 primary grade teacher, said the landscape of kindergarten education is nothing like it was 20 years ago. “The expectations have risen a little bit, but that’s change,” she said, explaining that a full-day program would help balance out the needs and expectations with the teacher’s abilities and time constraints.
The board did agree that budgetary restrictions require thoughtful consideration of the proposal. “We’ve got one pile of money. … How do we come to the mental conclusion that this is our priority?” asked Geldner. “Do we have a need to meet? Because we know we have all these other needs to meet.”
“I just don’t want to have an ‘I could have had a V8 moment,'” said Latham, of the other initiatives the school district should consider spending money on before agreeing to designate funds for all-day kindergarten. He said that he’d like to see a number of different options outlined for review. “What do we need the most, and what can we afford off that wish list?” he asked.
“I think this would be a great program, absolutely aligned with our academic philosophy,” said board secretary Janice Pyrce. “I think the big question is the financial feasibility.”
“I’m just trying to figure out what the implications are for our budget going forward. We can’t just keep adding everything that we want to add,” said Weiss.