District 21 board signals support for full-day kindergarten

Wheeling Elementary District 21 school board members Thursday expressed their support for the expansion of full-day kindergarten across the district, ahead of a referendum vote this fall that could help fund it.

Board members discussed a draft resolution - to be formally considered at their next meeting Oct. 18 - that would direct the administration to develop a plan for implementation of full-day kindergarten across the district.

"I think it's clear people want full-day kindergarten," board Vice President Staci Allan said of parents during community listening sessions. "They want a commitment from the district that we feel strongly about it. It's one more step in that direction."

Superintendent Michael Connolly said he'd bring back a proposal to the board in May that detailed how many extra class sections would be needed based on enrollment, and how many teachers and specialists would have to be hired.

The district provides full-day kindergarten at three of its nine elementary schools - Field, Twain and Whitman schools - funded through federal Title I dollars. The other six schools host 2½-hour morning or afternoon sessions.

The referendum question, which school board members agreed last month to place on the Nov. 6 ballot, seeks permission from voters to raise taxes to fund $69 million in facility upgrades at all 14 district buildings. Of that amount, $5 million would be used to outfit classrooms at the six schools for full-day kindergarten, Connolly said.

That could mean dividing a classroom into two to make space for an extra kindergarten class, he said.

If voters approve the borrowing plan, the classroom upgrades would be scheduled for the summer of 2020, with first classes ready for that fall.

The proposal calls for a host of other facility improvements across the district that would take place over five summers. First up in 2019 would be upgrading security at school entrances, installing air conditioning and updating HVAC systems.

If approved, it would cost an extra $74 in property taxes for the owner of an average $300,000 home.

District officials also announced Thursday they are hosting two town hall meetings next week to share information and answer questions about the referendum. The meetings are scheduled for Monday, Sept. 24, at London Middle School, and Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Cooper Middle School, each beginning at 7 p.m.

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