SUMMIT, NJ — School administrators discussed the estimated budget impact of expanding school district’s universal half-day kindergarten into a free full-day program next year at their Jan. 17 meeting, drawing mixed reactions from residents.
Talk of adding full-day kindergarten for the 2019-2020 school year began last year and, according to Superintendent June Chang, the January exchange was the first of many budgetary discussions the school board will have before it comes up for a vote in March.
Chang and Lou Pepe, the assistant superintendent for business, laid out other factors that impact next year’s budget, including maintaining competitive salaries, preparing for health-benefits renewal, maintaining operational efficiency and multiyear planning for sustainability of quality and stabilization of tax impact.
Expanding kindergarten to a full day is estimated to cost $1.5 million annually. However, about $400,000 is already factored in as teacher salaries for the half-day program currently employed.
“Retaining fresh talent that we have already invested in and trained in district expectations, culture and practices reduces the initial impact of $1.5 million to $1.1 million,” Chang said at the meeting.
The net amount will have a 1.8 percent impact on the budget, according to Pepe.
The district also expects to add four teachers at $260,000 and five aides at $177,735 for next year.
After the budget presentation, former Board of Education member James Freeman asked Chang to lay out the benefits of full-day kindergarten.
Chang said students entering first grade after completing a full-day program are better prepared, although most of the data is qualitative.
In addition to the free half-day kindergarten, the district currently offers a full day program that charges tuition. Admission to that program is based on a lottery system.
Parent Rachel Brennan expressed her support for the implementation of full-day kindergarten.
“The current system is inherently and undeniably not equal,” she said, adding that the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome forces some parents to make difficult decisions regarding their children’s education.
Former city Councilman Tom Getzendanner expressed his support for retaining the current tuition-based program.
“Aside from the efficacy of FDK, which can’t be proven in ‘high-performing districts’ like Summit, there are five compelling business reasons why an ‘optional’ approach is the right compromise,” he said, adding that the program is irreversible; state aid is unreliable; two-thirds of taxpayers don’t use the public schools; property taxes are no longer fully deductible; and the recent Bristol-Myers merger with local pharmaceutical maker Celgene threatens the district’s ratable.
Later in the meeting, Pepe assured the public that ratable has a “nice increase” this year.
Freeman’s wife, Vickie Freeman, joined Getzendanner in his support of the current program.
“I have seen no evidence that there is a problem with the current system that needs to be solved,” she said. “The role of the Summit schools is not to provide free child care to Summit kids.”
Former school board President Celia Colbert stated that full-day kindergarten is about more than “a test score” adding that full-day programs are prevalent throughout the country.
“We can’t solve the world’s problems, but we can bring FDK to our kids,” she