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School board perplexed by rejection of kindergarten compromise

Full day kindergarten won’t be universal until September 2011



The Sea to Sky School District board has sent a letter to the Ministry of Education asking why their proposal to bring in full-day kindergarten in January 2011 was rejected.

The district may be left with a choice of providing full-day kindergarten to just 60 per cent of students in September 2010 or holding off until the program is fully funded the following year.

School Board superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson is confused why their proposal was rejected, given that it cost the same as the province's staged plan and that it didn't put the board into a position of providing full-day kindergarten to one group of five year olds and half-day for another.

"The province of B.C. has decided that full-day kindergarten was a very positive initiative to support early learning throughout the province, but in order to implement this kind of program it costs a fair amount of money as effectively staffing for kindergarten is being doubled over two years," said Dr. Erickson.

As a result of the costs as well as issues like teacher recruitment, the availability of classes and issues with other programs like after school programs and the province's Early Start initiative, school boards across the province are being provided with enough funding to cover roughly half of the Kindergarten-age students in the province with full-day classes.

It's up to school boards how they want to implement full-day kindergarten. Unwilling to choose which schools will benefit - or hampered by issues like classroom availability - some school boards have rejected provincial funding until full-day funding is available to all in September 2011. Others have taken the funding and will pick which schools to offer full-day kindergarten starting in September 2010 based on location, availability of classroom space, teachers and other considerations.

The Sea to Sky School District rejected both those ideas, but decided it was better to take the money and offer the programming to some of the students rather than none.

As it happens the parent of a kindergarten student came up with the answer, sharing it with a school trustee in the checkout line of a Whistler supermarket - keep all kindergarten-age kids in half-day kindergarten from September 2010 until January 2011, then promote all kids to full-day kindergarten. It costs the same and the school district has ample classroom space to make it a reality.

"We're not canceling the opportunity for full-day kindergarten, and we can accommodate the kids," said Erickson, who said over 90 per cent of parents polled by the district supported the move to full-day kindergarten. "It doesn't cost more money than the province would otherwise spend for the 190-plus students they have funding for. So what I would call this is a win-win."

However, the idea was rejected by the province on the grounds that it didn't meet the criteria given to school districts.

School board chair Rick Price is optimistic that the province could be convinced to change its mind.

"The initial response was from lower down in the hierarchy and it may have been that our idea hadn't been thought of before or considered," said Price. "When we made the inquiry we didn't provide a lot of the details, but this time we have in our letter to the Minister. We're quite hopeful the Minister and staff will respond positively, and if they do this might be a helpful model for other school districts."

The district has been given funding that would provide full day kindergarten to 194 students within the school district, but the school board is anticipating approximately 300 kindergarten students in September 2010.

Price says they do not want to turn down funding or the opportunity to provide full-day kindergarten if the letter fails to sway the Ministry of Education. He says they are looking at all options including finding funding within the budget for the approximately 106 students that would not be covered - a cost they estimate between $250,000 and $300,000.

"But the fact is that the budget has been so tight for years now that we struggle to find $30,000 let alone $300,000," said Price. "It would mean huge changes to programming in other areas to accommodate that and at first glance I don't see how that can be done."

The schools are facing deadlines. The deadline to accept or reject provincial funding was Jan. 22, and school districts are already putting together budgets for next year.

"Schools have to plan and parents are getting to the point where they should be signing up for kindergarten and they should know what kindergarten they're enrolling their children in," added Price.



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