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updated: 11/6/2012 1:06 AM

No full-day kindergarten for all in Dist. 203

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Discussions to implement a full-day kindergarten in Naperville Unit District 203 have resurfaced, but the district's superintendent said Monday it won't be possible to implement such a program for all students next school year.

Instead, Superintendent Dan Bridges said, the district may use a phased-in approach in which existing full-day kindergarten programs for at-risk student populations are expanded.

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"We know there's a significant cost to (full-day kindergarten districtwide), and we're not in a position because of facility needs to offer that next year," Bridges said at a board meeting.

Board members did, however, authorize Bridges to begin looking into a full-day program that would expand what the district currently offers to some students.

Currently, 80 such students are enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs across the district: a dual language program for Spanish-speaking students with limited English proficiency; intervention and social skills programs for students with individualized education programs; and an extended day Title I program for low-performing students.

A total of 796 students are enrolled in the district's existing half-day kindergarten program at 14 elementary schools.

While many board members said they agreed with the concept of full-day kindergarten, some also said questions remain about the program's cost and facility space needs.

"My giant stumbling block is: Where do we put students, and how much does it cost," said board member Susan Crotty. "In a vacuum, does it sounds great? Yes. But when you have to decide can we keep music in high schools and still have all-day kindergarten, that's a value judgment."

Board member Jim Dennison said he's "fully behind" the full-day program but wants clarity on "facilities, timeline, cost, execution and plan." The last time the issue was discussed, he said, there was a "lack of clarity."

In March, the school board and then-Superintendent Mark Mitrovich agreed to delay a decision on full-day kindergarten because of uncertainties with facilities and funding. District officials initially estimated the program would cost about $2 million annually after an initial startup cost of $505,600. And, it would have required another $7 million from the district's reserves to pay for construction of additional classrooms and multipurpose rooms.

Board member Terry Fielden said he wants to see the long-term financial impact of the full-day program, noting that the district should be fiscally responsible.

"Last time there was no plan," Fielden said. "It was, 'Here's what we're going to do. Let's get in the car and see where the car takes us.' I'm not up for that."

Bridges said this time, there would be a "thoughtful, strategic process for where this is going to go over time."

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