A group of well-informed, passionate and persistent parents attended the Barrington School Committee meeting on Thursday night, June 6, hoping to convince officials to find money in the current budget to pay for full-day kindergarten in local schools this fall.
But after three hours of discussion, the school board denied the requests and instead made a motion to study the issue once again.
More specifically, the school committee made a motion to ask the superintendent, Mike Messore, to “explore the financial obligations” that would exist if officials launched a full-day kindergarten program in January. School officials made clear that the motion was not a promise to add full-day K in January, but only to study the topic more closely.
That was a far cry from what most people at the meeting were pleading for.
One local mom told school officials that she was disappointed with the apparent lack of follow-through by the committee, which she had believed was going to “sharpen its pencils” and find a way to implement the full-day K with the money already in the budget.
Another parent asked if the school committee was committed to adding full-day K in its next budget, while someone else voiced frustration at the lack of progress made by a district that has been talking about adding full-day kindergarten for the last five years. Before the board could respond, another person in the audience bumped that number to 14 years, and yet another said the issue had been discussed for more than 20 years.
Local parent Debbie Weinstein asked whether the problem with implementation was one of finances or timing — she said she thought it was purely a budgetary issue, but had heard officials say over and over that they did not want to rush the program.
The year delay in implementation did not sit well with most of the people in the room, including John Cregan who said the committee had fallen short in its mission to empower all students: “We want results, not excuses. We want action!”
Others at the meeting told officials to look at other areas of the budget and find places to make cuts. Prashanth Galisukumar, whose daughter will be starting kindergarten in the fall, told members of the school committee that they were failing the people who had put them on the board. He compared the district to a private corporation that would operate with a $45 million budget. He said people in private industry are constantly facing the challenge of trimming their budgets, and there was no reason why school officials could not find $400,000 for full-day kindergarten.
“You need to represent the needs of the stakeholders. You’ve got to make it happen,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to do it.”
At one point, parents were yelling out ideas for cost-savings to balance out the addition of full-day K. One person offered transportation alternatives, while another said the district could build the full-day program but call it half-day with a second half offered as a pay-as-you-go enrichment program.
“How about non-instructional cuts?” asked a local father, who later told officials they could delay the payments for new computers by negotiating with the software and hardware companies.
Officials shook off nearly all the ideas.
Toward the end of the meeting, members of the audience began to press the school committee on whether it had any intention to bring full-day K to Barrington this fall. Officials were clearly hesitant on committing, although committee member Paula Dominguez said she and Scott Fuller were unable to make a motion to call for the program because they had been voted down on a similar motion at an earlier meeting.
Eventually, Kate Brody agreed to a request from a local mom, who asked that the school board at least examine rolling out full-day kindergarten in January — a semester later than most parents had hoped for.
The motion passed 4-0. (School committee member Patrick Guida was absent from the meeting.)
At least two parents at the meeting supported keeping half-day kindergarten in place.