The Geneva school board favors instituting all-day kindergarten for all students, if the estimated $352,000 cost can be reduced.
The board directed the district's administrators to look for money that could be reallocated from elsewhere in the budget. And several board members suggested that the expense could be sliced by about $105,000 if it didn't double kindergarten assistants but made do with the eight full-time-equivalent positions it already has.
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"They aren't going to be putting on hats and coats and boots (on kids) twice a day," said board member Kelly Nowak, suggesting that the time could instead be spent on helping students with their studies.
The district could also reduce the cost gap by $15,000 by charging full-day kindergartners the same amount for fees as first-graders.
All the board members indicated they favored a program where full day is the default. It would still have to offer a half-day kindergarten, under state law. The district could serve half-day kindergartners at one school. Or it could keep them in their neighborhood schools, with core subjects such as reading and mathematics being taught to all kindergartners in the morning, and subjects such as art, music and physical education offered to the full-day students in the afternoons.
Nowak said that by increasing focus on students in kindergarten, perhaps those students won't need as much specialized intervention services when they are in first, second and third grades.
Full-day kindergarten was first recommended in 2008 but was tabled due to the effect of the recession on the district's finances.
Full-day kindergarten, rather than the current 2½-hour session, would also help meet the more-rigorous state-mandated Common Core academic standards set for kindergartners, according to the committee charged with refreshing the 2008 proposal.
Several mothers of prospective kindergartners spoke in favor the full day.
"I was shocked that it didn't cost that much more. I don't see it as that much money," said Katie Sorenson.
But retiree Patrick Murphy, a member of the Geneva TaxFACTS watchdog group, said he suspected the estimates didn't account for other possible costs, such as sick days for the additional teachers needed, remodeling of restrooms, or hiring aides to oversee lunch. He reminded the board that tax bills are going to keep increasing as the payments due on the district's debt keep rising, and argued taxpayers should not have to bear more costs.
"Parents can afford to pay for this program," he said.
Figures for other districts that have tuition-based full-day kindergarten show an average of about 50 percent of the kindergartners participate, Nowak said. To her, that doesn't provide enough academic benefit to the group to merit the work involved.
The board will discuss the matter more at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Williamsburg Elementary School, 1812 Williamsburg Ave. A March 10 vote has been proposed.