NISKAYUNA – The Niskayuna Central School District has canceled plans to launch a universal pre-kindergarten program for the upcoming school year after failing to budget properly.
To make the new program viable, the district would have had to spend more per student than the state would have paid for, and the district did not budget for funding that would have closed the gap, according to a district spokesperson.
“Overall, it’s been a learning process,” said Roberto LoBianco, a spokesperson for the district. “The state’s per-pupil allocation for low and average need districts like ours appears insufficient to fully fund a UPK program without supplemental funding. The district did not budget funds in our 2022-23 general fund budget for UPK.”
The amount per student allocated to Niskayuna by the state for universal pre-K is about $5,300, which is lower than the projected costs for providing a UPK program in both public and private settings, LoBianco said, adding that the state’s per-pupil allocations are based, in part, on each district’s relative level of community resources.
The proposed program, which would have been an opportunity to support 50 families in the district with free early education, has for months been mired in controversy over the planned location. After the district initially said on April 12 that the program would be housed at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center, community members and child care service providers criticized the collaboration for coming about without a sufficient request for proposals.
The district reissued a call for proposals on April 29.
“The request for proposals was reissued to ensure that it was widely advertised,” LoBianco said.
Kelly Olsen, a co-owner of Kiddie Car Nursery School, told The Daily Gazette on May 1 her business was never contacted during the initial call, which she said relied on outdated contact information.
Olsen said Tuesday she did not apply during the reissued call because of the short application window – submissions were due May 20.
“From the get-go, this was not a well-thought-out plan. There was a lot of incompetence from district from start, beginning with the request for proposals not being done properly,” Olsen said Tuesday. “I just don’t think they were ready for this. I think they thought it was going to be simple and easy, and it wasn’t.”
The JCC was the only respondent to the reissued call, according to LoBianco.
“The district reissued a request for proposals seeking qualified community partners interested in partnering with the district to offer UPK programming. After consultation with the Jewish Community Center, the sole organization which responded to the request for proposals, we have determined that it is too late in the summer to move forward with successfully creating a program for the fall,” LoBianco said. “While we were hopeful that after reissuing the request for proposals we would be able to move forward in time to launch UPK in September 2022, several factors, including budgetary and time constraints, prevent us from doing so.”
LoBianco said he didn’t know how many families were interested in the program.
“We don’t have a number because we didn’t move forward with the lottery and application process, so we don’t have a certain number on how many families have expressed interest,” he said. “But we know it’s a huge value to many families. It’s super important, so we’re committed to bringing a program forward as soon as possible.”
Daycare costs in Schenectady average $268/week, according to Care.com, which connects families with caregivers. And families are spending more on child care than they were prior to the pandemic, according to a Care.com survey conducted this year.
The survey found the national average child care cost for one child in 2021 was $694/week for a nanny (up from $565/week in 2019), $226/week for a child care or daycare center (up from $182/week) and $221/week for a family care center (up from $177/week).
In addition, the survey found 51% of parents spend more than 20% of their household income on child care, and 72% of parents spend 10% or more.
The district, which has more than 4,300 students, has dealt recently with leadership turnover. With Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra leaving in the fall, interim Superintendent Juliette Pennyman served until June 30. New Superintendent Carl Mummenthey began his term July 1.
Olsen said she feels for families in the community.
“It’s a shame that it was put out there like it was definitely going to happen,” she said. “They hyped it up, and now here we are a few weeks before school starts, and we’re not going to have it.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.