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updated: 2/22/2012 4:12 PM

Costs put brakes on Dist. 203 all-day kindergarten

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Many Naperville Unit District 203 school board members believe future students would benefit from an all-day kindergarten program, but not with the nearly $7 million in construction costs needed to make it happen.

Board members said such a program could lead to academic gains, but they rejected the specific proposal Tuesday citing concerns with costs and logistics. They asked administrators to rework the proposal.

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Administrators had recommended implementing all-day kindergarten as early as 2013.

Finance Director Dave Zager estimated the program would cost about $2 million annually after an initial startup cost of $505,600. But it also would raid the district's reserves of about $7 million for construction of additional classrooms and multipurpose rooms.

Chief Academic Officer Kathy Duncan and Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Jennifer Hester said an all-day program would give students several advantages in anticipation of the coming switch to federal Common Core requirements.

They said it also would provide social and economic benefits for students who would have more time to interact with each other and give teachers more time to interact with students and families.

"There have been a lot of things that have happened in our nation around the need for educational change. We have a responsibility to lead the district through intentionally developed plans to really implement the common core standards and prepare for our participation in newly designed assessment structures and to recognize our accountability expectations," Duncan said.

"As part of that work, we believe providing an all-day kindergarten program and experience will have a foundational impact on all students in the community. With the complexities of what's ahead, we think all-day kindergarten will afford the opportunity for the right start."

Duncan said 85 percent of Illinois schools currently offer an all-day kindergarten program.

"Two and a half hours is impossibly short," she said. "We've got to give our students and staff the right learning environment and the right amount of time in order to meet the needs that are facing us in the future."

Hester called all-day kindergarten "an important foundational piece for us in retooling the comprehensive system."

"When we look at instruction, all-day kindergarten gives us the opportunity of additional instructional time. And it's not just the time but it's the ability for teachers to use that time to work with students in a whole-group setting, a small-group setting, and individually," Hester said. "The challenge of the half day is that there aren't as many opportunities for the grouping and it places a tremendous amount of responsibility on first- and second-grade teachers."

In an example Tuesday, administrators said time allotted for math learning more than triples from 20 minutes a day to 75 minutes a day while writing time more than doubles from 20 to 50 minutes a day and language arts time doubles from 60 to 120 minutes a day.

Board member Jim Dennison said he's confident the district can find the additional $2 million annually but is concerned about the construction costs.

"As far as the program goes, I couldn't support it more," he said. "I think it's something we have to do but $8 million to $10 million to do something like this gives me pause."

Vice President Jackie Romberg said the district needs all-day kindergarten but stressed it needs to be creative how it gets there.

"The $2 million a year doesn't phase me at all," she said. "The construction costs bothered me."

Board members Susan Crotty, Suzyn Price and Terry Fielden and board President Mike Jaensch said they are ready to move forward with the program.

Jaensch called the district "a top-performing district in a dysfunctional state in a mediocre country."

"I appreciate and respect the comments about being tight on the dollar but any money we do spend is an investment in every kid that enters this district," he said. "And to me, $2 million a year is a small investment to ensure we live up to our reputation."

Following the presentation, Superintendent Mark Mitrovich conceded administrators have "a lot of homework to do" in terms of coming up with more detailed answers regarding operating costs, sources of those funds and alternatives to construction.

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