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updated: 6/18/2013 4:49 PM

District 203 expanding all-day kindergarten program

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Kindergarten will last longer next fall for more than 500 students in Naperville Unit District 203.

Board members voted unanimously Monday to approve a 2013-14 budget that, among other things, provides funding to switch to all-day kindergarten at seven of the district's 14 elementary schools.

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The $253.6 million spending plan includes money for more teachers, building additions and remodeling as Beebe, Ellsworth, Elmwood, Mill, Naper, River Woods and Scott schools begin offering full-day kindergarten.

The extended program adds about $800,000 to the budget, which increased a total of 4.2 percent from the $240.9 million budgeted the previous year, said Dave Zager, associate superintendent for finance.

Construction -- including gyms or multipurpose rooms at Elmwood, Steeple Run and Prairie schools and additions or remodeling at Naper, Ellsworth and Ranch View schools -- accounts for $6.4 million of the budget.

"I don't take lightly as a board member, and I don't think any of us do, the fact that the budget is an increase larger than in past years," board member Kristin Fitzgerald said. "However, I think we need to make these investments and they're very important for the community."

Fitzgerald said the priorities in the budget, including all-day kindergarten and a $2.1 million wireless network upgrade, are the right ones for the district moving forward.

The seven schools chosen to begin offering all-day kindergarten are the lowest-performing in the district and are classified as Title I schools, which get federal funding to help students who are behind academically or at risk of falling behind. Administrators have said the program, which aims to give young students more time to interact with their peers and a stronger educational foundation, may be extended to all elementary schools in 2014.

Full-day and half-day kindergartners will learn the same curriculum but have different amounts of classroom time, said Jennifer Hester, associate superintendent of learning services. The curriculum includes the same science and social science programs, new math and literacy components and an updated element of social and emotional learning, which Hester said is key.

"It's extremely important and it needs to be a very intentional component of the teacher's day," Hester said.

Some of the district's larger schools are among those offering full-day kindergarten in the fall, so slightly more than half the estimated 1,000 kindergartners are enrolled in the new program, said Kitty Ryan, assistant superintendent for elementary education.

The equivalent of 10.8 full-time employees have been added to the district's payroll for next year. Increases of 11 kindergarten teachers to implement the full-day program, three dual language teachers, 3.3 special education positions and one other instructional position were offset by decreases in elementary and bilingual teachers, Zager said.

The average District 203 homeowner will pay $4,982 in property taxes to the district, an increase of $145 over last year, to support the larger budget, Zager said.

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