While many school districts are cutting costs as they struggle with finances, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake officials are considering adding full-day kindergarten next year.
BH-BL Central School District is one of the few in the area that offers only a half-day program, although students who need extra help can enroll in full-day kindergarten there.
Declining enrollment, a one-time state grant and transportation savings may allow the district to offer a full-day program to all students.
Many parents have been requesting the change for years.
Some parents who work full time and whose children have been in day care and preschool say their kids are ready for full-day kindergarten.
Jody Sitors of Glenville would like to see full-day kindergarten in time for the youngest of her three children, who will enter Pashley Elementary School in September.
Her daughter is already reading and writing and is ready to learn more. Her older children would have benefited from it also, she said.
The half-day program is so short that after getting their coats off, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, listening to morning announcements and putting their coats back on at the end of the day, there’s really only a couple of hours for learning, Sitors said.
“It seems like all of a sudden they’re ready to go home already.”
After being in a full-day preschool, her older daughter was used to the longer day. “She couldn’t figure out why she was there for only an hour and 45 minutes.”
Kindergarten is more demanding than it was decades ago; students are expected to master more skills before they enter first grade. The limited time in a half-day program makes it tough for teachers to get through all that material, said Susan Vine, president of the Pashley Elementary School PTA.
“It’s a struggle for the kindergarten teachers to teach everything,” she said.
On the flip side, some parents say their children aren’t ready to be away from home for a whole day at that age.
The Pashley PTA runs a kindergarten orientation program for parents and students, and Vine sees the youngsters as they enter school for the first time.
“I can see first hand where some of the younger children aren’t just quite ready, but some of them are.”
Sitors’ son, who is in first grade now, went to a part-time preschool program that was longer than his kindergarten day.
“I think that he could have benefited from staying there a little longer,” Sitors said.
Instead, she did extra work with him at home to get him ready for first grade.
The district currently has 11 half-day kindergarten classes and two full-day classes. Officials project they would only need nine full-day classes for next school year.
Preliminary projections for Burnt Hills’ 2013-14 budget are more positive than they’ve been in the last three years, when staff and programs were cut, the district said in a news release on its website.
“Thanks to an increase in state aid and the smart decisions that were made here in previous years, Burnt Hills is not feeling the crisis that it has felt for the past couple years,” Superintendent Patrick McGrath said in a statement.
Early budget figures show spending at $60.3 million, 6 percent higher than the current school year’s budget of $56.9 million. That includes a 12 percent hike in health insurance premiums and a $1.4 million increase in state pension payments, but doesn’t add any staff or programs.
Adding full-day kindergarten may actually save the district money, officials said.
Because of declining enrollment in the lower grades, the district can keep its existing staff without adding more kindergarten teachers, even if more students who are enrolled in private full-day kindergarten programs switch back to their public school, officials said in the news release.
The district also would save money on transportation, since kindergartners would be bused on the same schedule as the rest of the elementary youngsters rather than sending out extra buses in the middle of the day.
And the district would get a one-time state grant of $600,000, which could be spread across several years to cover any additional costs, officials said.
District officials were out of the office Tuesday during school vacation week and were not available for comment for this story.
Assistant Superintendent Rick Evans is heading a committee of staff and parents to examine the issue and report back to the school board in April. In the meantime, the district plans to conduct a public survey and hold a forum in March for people to weigh in.
Budget forums are scheduled for March 5 and April 9.
The public also can attend Board of Education Finance Committee meetings at 7 p.m. Feb. 27, March 19 and April 11 in the high school library.
The school budget vote is May 21.
Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, Mechanicville, Mohonasen, Schalmont, Scotia-Glenville, Niskayuna, Schenectady and Galway offer a full-day kindergarten program.
Shenendehowa schools offer half-day kindergarten.