Lehigh Valley

East Penn school board approves full-day kindergarten

Superintendent announces resignation

EMMAUS, Pa. - After more than an hour of back-and forth between board members, the East Penn School Board voted 6-3 at its Monday meeting to implement a full-time kindergarten program in all district elementary schools starting with the 2018-19 school year. 

Board members Charles Ballard, Chris Donatelli and Carol Allen voted against the measure.

In a meeting this past October, board members rejected full-day kindergarten in a 5-4 vote. The November election changed the makeup of the board, making passage of full-day kindergarten more likely. 

Board member Charles Ballard read a statement explaining the reasons he opposes implementing full-time kindergarten at this time. 

Ballard said that a survey done by the Study Committee, which showed that a majority of people in the district support full-day kindergarten, was flawed. The survey only focused on those community members with children in the district and did not reflect the opinions of all residents, Ballard said. 

Ballard said that the board had to “balance the interests” of those residents with and those without children in the district and “reach a fair result for all parties.”

Ballard pointed out that the district would need to find ways of raising revenue for the program each year. He rejected the idea of the school budget planners trying to “shoehorn” $1 million into the budget. The cost of funding the full-day kindergarten program in its first year is estimated to be $1.05 million.

Ballard also voiced concern that, if a full-day program were implemented, there might not be enough space in elementary schools to accommodate all students, especially if there would be an increase in the elementary-school age population.

Board Vice President Ken Bacher said that the Study Committee survey Ballard cited was not a determining factor in his decision making, saying that full-day kindergarten offering a “thorough and efficient education” mattered more in his decision to back it.

Bacher said that putting the question of funding full-day kindergarten to a voter referendum, as suggested by Ballard and other board members, was unnecessary and would create uncertainty for those crafting next year’s budget.

Board member Carol Allen said she would like to look at other options regarding the district’s kindergarten programs. Allen said that she would prefer that “parents be the ones to make that determination” on whether to send their kids to full-day kindergarten.

Board member Chris Donatelli said that implementing full-time kindergarten would not be “a push in the right direction” for students. Donatelli said that some parents might prefer to spend more time with their young children rather than sending them to kindergarten all day.

Donatelli described the deliberations regarding the issue as “a little underhanded,” saying that more time should have been spent on the issue and more data should have been collected about how the community feels about full-day kindergarten. More community input was needed, Donatelli said.

Board member Ziad Munson said that to call the process underhanded was “simply not accurate.” Munson said that the board needs to weigh costs and benefits when considering any measure. In the case of full-day kindergarten, Munson said, the benefits outweigh the costs.

Board member Alisa Bowman said she “wholeheartedly” believes in full-day kindergarten.

School board member Adam Smith voiced his support for the measure, saying that school board members need to make informed decisions and “serve as a voice for the community.” Smith noted that 77 percent of Pennsylvania kindergartners are in full-time kindergarten. Smith said the East Penn school district is “playing catch-up."

Board member Paul Champagne, who proposed the full-day kindergarten motion, said that the “time is right” to pass the measure, noting that the district has studied the issue for almost two years.

Superintendent J. Michael Schilder said that he was disappointed with comments by board members saying that the process of discussing a full-day program was in any way secretive or underhanded.

He said he stood by the process of bringing the issue up to a vote, adding that the administration has been “nothing but completely upfront and transparent.”

Schilder said that the district’s intentions are to better “meet the needs of young children. That is it.”

In other business, the board heard early estimates for the 2018-19 district budget. District Superintendent Michael Schilder and Business Administrator Robert Saul presented a $145.5 million balanced budget that would raise property taxes by 0.5063 mills, a 2.8 percent increase from the current 18.0850.

The revenue from the tax increase is estimated to be $2.6 million. 

The budget, which would be adopted on April 23, 2018, would begin with a fund balance of $9.8 million and would have over $7 million in budgetary reserves. The district is expected to receive $4.8 million in combined federal and state aid.

In other news, Schilder said he will be stepping down as of June 30, 2018. Schilder said that “we’ve made substantial progress” during his time on the board.

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