All-day kindergarten back on track on Naperville 203

Updated 12/18/2012 11:22 AM

Naperville Unit District 203 likely will begin offering all-day kindergarten at seven of its 14 elementary schools next year.

Superintendent Dan Bridges unveiled a plan Monday that will bring the all-day program to the district's seven Title I schools in August 2013 and aim to offer the full-day kindergarten in all elementary schools as early as 2014.

The plan, he said, is to get the program started as soon as possible for schools with higher at-risk populations while continuing to study the costs and logistics of implementing it districtwide.

The Title I facilities, which are public schools that get extra money from the federal government to help students who are behind academically or at risk of falling behind, are Beebe, Ellsworth, Elmwood, Mill, Naper, River Woods and Scott.

"The board gave us direction to prepare a targeted program and that is what we've done," Bridges said. "Obviously our end game and desire is for the program to be available to all of our students in all of our schools. But we can't do that all in one year."

Currently, 80 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 half-day kindergarten program at 14 elementary schools.

Finance Director Dave Zager said the startup costs for the program this year would be about $380,000 while total costs in 2013-2014 would be about $928,000. To implement the program in all schools would cost the district about $1.3 million after about $820,000 in payouts from the state.

A majority of the costs are linked to the necessary $300,000 renovation to Ellsworth this summer and a $1 million addition needed at Naper in the summer of 2014.

Board members, with the exception of Dave Weeks, lined up to praise Bridges and his cabinet for their work on the proposal, which they believe is more focused and less costly than the previous administration's plan in March.

At that time, 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.

"I feel very comfortable with what we're doing. We've heard a lot from the community and it's sparked a lot of discussion, interest and passion" board member Suzyn Price said. "While we'd all like to see something happen tomorrow, we also want to be thoughtful. I appreciate that we're doing this over time, though a relatively brief period of time."

Board President Mike Jaensch also expressed his support.

"I think this is the best compromise we can do," he said. "We're targeting schools where we have an idea it may benefit the most. We've always been a district that tries to get the most bang out of the buck."

Weeks, however, called it a piecemeal plan and said he would like to see a longer-term proposal that makes the program available to all students.

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