Westfield to mull survey results to decide on full-day kindergarten

WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield Board of Education will dissect and digest surveys from nearly 1,000 respondents as to whether the district should consider expanding its kindergarten to a full-day program.
The survey, which was available for several weeks and sought input from both educators and residents to determining the need for full-day kindergarten, concluded Nov. 20.

“By undergoing a thorough evaluation, the board of education, with input from the community and educators, is investigating the need, value and cost of a full-day program,” Lincoln School Principal Audrey Zavetz told LocalSource via email Nov. 17.
The information from the survey will be analyzed by the school board’s long-range Planning Committee, BOE President Gretchan Ohlig said. Ohlig, who also serves on the committee, said the results will then be shared with the full board at one of its regular semimonthly public meetings.

If the BOE decides to institute a full-day program, the matter will require a public vote on a bond referendum for funds to construct facilities.
It will also need voters’ permission to exceed the state limit of a 2 percent annual tax increase.

The bond would provide for the the construction of facilities. Permission to increase tax rates would be necessary for the operating budget to accommodate additional costs associated with staffing, Ohlig told LocalSource.

She said the change is preliminary estimated to cost an additional $300 in taxes for the average homeowner.
“We anticipate that the increase attributable to the facilities updates would be approximately $40 annually per household over the life of a 20 to 30 year bond,” Ohlig said. “The impact of an increase to the operating budget for staffing needs is anticipated to be $250 annually per household.”

Westfield currently provides a half-day kindergarten program, which fulfills state educational standards, according to the survey.
Lincoln School has a total of 249 students enrolled in the morning or afternoon classes, according to Zavetz.
Westfield and Summit are two of the highest taxed municipalities in Union County, but both are among the relatively few public school districts that do not offer full-day kindergarten free of charge.

Summit offers the full-day program at an additional cost.
“We recognize that we are one of a small percentage of districts in New Jersey that do not offer a full-day program and the administration and board made this analysis a district goal for this year,” Ohlig said.

Based on the most recent data from the state Department of Education, 477 school districts provide full-day kindergarten, 34 provide have half-day programs, and eight offer both.

According to the DOE, education experts list several reasons for a full-day program.
“Educators are able to provide more in-depth instruction during full-day kindergarten, while also allowing for enough free play time,” DOE spokesman David Saenz told LocalSource via email Nov. 16. “Additionally, educators have told the NJDOE that students with full-day kindergarten tend to be more prepared for first grade.”

Saenz added that his department has received feedback from families indicating a preference for full-day kindergarten.