A group of like-minded parents in Delran are pushing hard to get the word out about the full-day kindergarten question on November’s ballot this election season.
If passed, full-day kindergarten will return to Millbridge Elementary School for the 2013-14 school year.
Eliminated from the school budget two years ago, when state cuts were rampant throughout New Jersey, full-day kindergarten was actually one of the last things to go. It had been in the district for nearly a decade before, officials said.
It saved the district a net of about $300,000, said Chris Russo, Delran schools’ business administrator, in a budget where more than $5 million was lost in the form of state aid and local tax revenue.
The budget, like most others throughout the state, was voted down.
Two years later, a group of parents started going to board of education meetings to fight to bring full-day kindergarten back.
“They presented valid arguments at every meeting,” Russo said. “They said, ‘Please consider us, we’re not going to go away.’ They were very organized and professional about their presentation.”
Petitions were signed and Russo said the board agreed to put the question on the ballot and let the taxpayers vote, since adding it would increase the 2 percent cap mandated by the state.
“Now, we want to generate support for it,” said Mara Wuebker, a Delran parent, who is helping spread the word.
(To see a copy of the ballot question and the interpretive statement, click on the PDF to the right.)
Wuebker’s 7-year-old son’s kindergarten class was the first one to be cut. Her 4-year-old daughter could get back into full-day kindergarten next year, if it’s restored after November’s vote.
“I was looking forward to him going to full-day kindergarten,” Wuebker said. “I felt it was important for social reasons—to be able to spend time with other kids, to interact and to learn what the appropriate behavior is in a classroom.”
Wuebker’s son went to half-day kindergarten and to an extended care program at the YMCA the other part of the day.
“But there are plenty of parents who can’t afford that,” she added.
Weubker is part of a task force, as she calls it, that not only fought to get the full-day kindergarten question on the ballot, but now, to get the word out to vote for it.
“We’re trying to generate some support for it,” she said. “It’s a grassroots effort of some concerned parents.”
Talking to people at the pool and the parks only goes so far, Wuebker said. She’s also been helping to distribute fliers and educate as many people as she can.
It’s been particularly challenging with some senior citizens, she admitted, because she’s heard full-day kindergarten likened to “a babysitting service.”
“Everybody understands in this economy that money is tight,” Wuebker said, “especially for seniors. But it’s not babysitting. It’s actually a detriment to the children [if full-day kindergarten is not offered]. You’re trying to streamline children in kindergarten into an abbreviated period.”
The tax impact is there, but Russo calls it minimal. The question on the ballot asks for an additional $400,000 that would pay for five teachers, materials and supplies.
For a Delran home at the average assessment of $209,000, that is an extra $29 in taxes a year.
(To see the impact on homeowners with different home assessments, click on the PDF to the right.)
In Cinnaminson, the has never had full-day kindergarten. In fact, the last time Superintendent Sal Illuzzi said it was really discussed was seven or eight years ago when a kindergarten teacher, who was also a Cinnaminson resident, asked about it.
“Beyond that, it was never seriously considered by the administration or the board,” Illuzzi said. “We didn’t have the space for it.”
And Cinnaminson still doesn’t have the space for it.
“If you look at the research providing for full-day kindergarten, for economically disadvantaged youngsters, it does have merit,” Illuzzi said. “In our district, fortunately, we don’t have the population that would warrant that type of program change.”