Region 16 school board ponders shift to full-day kindergarten

BEACON FALLS — The Region 16 building project could bring more than new bricks and mortar to the school district. The project could usher in a fundamental change in kindergarten classes.

Superintendent of Schools James Agostine presented the Board of Education with a draft of the educational specifications for the building project during the board’s May 11 meeting.

The educational specifications are the ideological blueprints for the project and will be used by architects to design the project.

The project calls for a new pre-K through fifth grade school to be built on the Tallmadge Hill Road property in Prospect. Community and Algonquin schools will be combined into the new school. The proposal also includes renovations to Laurel Ledge Elementary School and the construction of new district offices.

Agostine told the board that for the most part the draft educational specifications are straight forward, with one major exception. The draft currently includes the implementation of full-day kindergarten in the district.

Agostine said he suspects the state will mandate all districts go to full-day kindergarten in the future. Although he didn’t expect the mandate to come down in the immediate future, Agostine said it’s on the state’s agenda and felt it would be wise for the board to begin planning for it now.

“It’s going to come. If it comes in the next five years, it’d be surprising, but it’s coming,” Agostine said.

Designing the project to include full-day kindergarten would mean an additional four more classrooms for the new school and three more classrooms for Laurel Ledge, Agostine said. Once the project is finished, if the board goes through with the change, seven more teachers would need to be hired for the additional classes, he said.

The board’s response to the news was mixed.

Chair Lisa DeGoes said if the state mandates full-day kindergarten it will cost the district more money after the project’s completed to add classrooms on. She added that once the renovations are completed to Laurel Ledge it will be harder to make the necessary changes.

DeGoes felt including full-day kindergarten in the plans now is a more efficient plan.

Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella brought up the point that if the project is built to include full-day kindergarten, but the district doesn’t make the change, the district won’t be fully reimbursed.

The school district is expected to be reimbursed about 70 percent of its costs for the building project by the state. The state reimburses districts according to what’s in the educational specifications for any building project. If the district includes full-day kindergarten in the plans, but stays with half-day kindergarten, the district will have to pay for the costs of the additional classrooms on its own.

Board member Sheryl Feducia said she’d like to see all the architectural possibilities and cost estimates for including full-day kindergarten in the project now or renovating the schools after the project is complete before making a decision.

“I need to see the options,” Feducia said.

The board’s discussion centered on how approving the specifications with full-day kindergarten included could impact the district financially.

However, Agostine said he believes full-day kindergarten is beneficial for students. He contended that the question is more of a philosophical one rather than a financial one.

Agostine said if the board sees value in the change and envisions making the switch down the road then it shouldn’t get caught up in a financial debate.

“Do you value the concept of full-day kindergarten or not?” Agostine said is the question the board should be asking itself.

The board made no final decision on the matter. The educational specifications are expected to be approved within the next month or so.