Full-day kindergarten in Barrington: A $633,000 question


It all comes down to this. One night. One meeting. One chance to vote an additional $633,000 into the school department budget.

Tonight, May 22, taxpayers attending the annual financial town meeting in Barrington will be asked to vote yea or nay to Waseca Avenue resident Amy Morton’s amendment, which calls for a significant increase to the school budget.

Ms. Morton filed her amendment last Tuesday. It challenges the recommendation made by the Barrington Committee on Appropriations, which is calling for a $900,000 increase to the school department’s $45 million budget. Appropriations members negotiated with school officials to find a figure that would work for both groups, but after a sometimes contentious exchange, left the town hall without a compromise.

Now residents will have the final say whether to stick with the recommendation by appropriations or side with Ms. Morton and increase the school budget by $1.533 million.

The amendment matches the school district’s cost estimate to add full-day kindergarten this fall. Initially, school officials created a $141,000 placeholder in the budget to cover costs associated with adding full-day kindergarten; the district currently offers half-day kindergarten.

But earlier this month, a subcommittee saddled with researching the issue said the full-day program would cost $633,000.

Barrington Superintendent Mike Messore said that while he sees a need to add the program, he recommended the district wait a full year before doing so. He said there are other priorities the district must address — he noted the need to improve technology in Barrington schools in order to be prepared for upcoming student assessments. At a meeting last week, Mr. Messore said that if the district receives the $900,000 increase and still decided to implement full-day kindergarten, officials would need to cut programs and examine staffing reductions in order to balance the budget.

That ran counter to one school committee member’s comments.

First-year school committee member Paula Dominguez said she took a look at the school department’s budget and located, at first glance, about $125,000 in existing funds that could be used to help pay for full-day kindergarten.

She later added that she was confident someone like Ron Tarro, the district’s finance director, could probably find other available funding. (At that same meeting, Mr. Tarro reported that the district has realized a surplus over the last five years totaling $2.7 million. That surplus is money paid by taxpayers that the district did not use initially, but years later earmarked for capital projects that included new parking lots at two schools and new roofs at two others.)

After a short discussion, school officials voted 3-2 to endorse adding full-day kindergarten this fall, so long as there is enough money to pay for it and for all the other priorities identified by the superintendent and his staff.

Where do you stand?

Shortly after Ms. Morton filed her amendment, some residents were weighing in on whether they supported adding the money for full-day kindergarten.

Four residents shared their support for the program on a Barrington Times Facebook post, and others offered their comments after Barrington’s Tad and Amy Segal wrote a letter calling for a compromise. The Segals wrote: “We used to provide one full-day class in each school. Surely we have the skills and screening methodologies necessary to determine who could really benefit from full-day K and provide it to them. No extra teachers would be required for this plan and those that really needed that full day would get it.

“We all want our kids to get a great education and to succeed in school. We just think there’s a smarter way to get there.”

Kathleen Crain opposed that suggestion. Ms. Crain, who also spoke at the May 8 budget hearing, wrote in a post that she was disappointed the district was still undecided about full-day kindergarten.

“All children can benefit from 6 hours of school at this age, especially since it means more time for art, gym, library, music, recess and socialization. Five year olds are eager and ready to learn, excited to form friendships and relationships independent of their parents, and are more than able to do so.”

Emily Connor appeared to side with the Segals.

“It is not my preference for my daughter to attend full day kindergarten either, and further I also agree that there are other higher priorities in the school district for the funds at this time. Even if the funds come from additional money added to the budget, it still swells the budget overall which could limit increases in future budgets. While I strongly believe the saying ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,’ one must recognize that there is not an infinite pool of money.”

The decision will rest in the hands of the voters tonight.


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