School Committee gives thumbs up to Full Day Kindergarten

Just back from the School Committee meeting. Let me say, first of all, that the Belmont Madrigal Singers rocked the house. Great work to everyone…and where can one buy the funky medieval garb?

Belmont Madrigal Singers

On a more serious note — what’s to report is this: the Belmont School Committee heard a report from the Belmont Public Schools’ Kindergarten Task Force at a Committee meeting at Wellington Elementary on Tuesday evening, which called for a full day kindergarten program, fully funded by the School Department for the 2008/2009 academic year. The report, presented by Wynn Brook principal Janet Carey, found that full day kindergarten (FDK) will enhance learning, promote social and emotional growth and allow for a more relaxed pace at school — provide for more teaching in science, social studies and the arts and…hey…even let the kids play a bit, too!!

School Committee members, including Superintendent Peter Holland, signaled that they would push for funding for FDK in the coming town budget debate, which will begin after the New Year. Expected costs will be between $300,000 and $380,000 — around 1% of overall school funding for the academic year. Committee members also suggested (after questioning by *ahem* yours truly) that those costs would be lessened slightly by consolidated bus service and lower turnover among the kindergarten teaching staff.

Bottom line — this is a 1% boost in overall school funding to give Belmont what 66% of Massachusetts students already have. Worried about the increased taxes to pay for it? Cut your Starbucks intake by one Venti a week. That’ll more than pay for whatever your share will be. Trust me.

No surprise: the room was packed with anxious parents, the majority of whom supported the prospect of FDK for their kids. Members heard from working mothers worried about the expense of the current K-ED program (around $2,000 a year per child) and parents who desperately wanted for their kids what children in Watertown, Newton, Wellesley and other towns already enjoy. There’s a great FDK fact sheet available here (PDF format) with ca. 2005-2006 stats on FDK programs in the Bay State. The Committee also heard from a number of parents opposed to FDK — some citing conflicting research on the benefits. As Superintendent Holland said — the best evidence in support of FDK was the presence of so many of our kids teachers and principals at the meeting — all in support of getting FDK. Committee members also received a petition, signed by 250 community members, in support of FDK.

What next? Funny…I asked that question. The best thing you can do is to mail your Selectman and register your support for FDK. The town Web site gives selectmen@town.belmont.ma.us as an e-mail drop box for them. I’m betting its a dead letter address. (Update 12/26: Jeff Conti from the Office of the Selectmen writes to say that the e-mail address does work and is checked daily by staff there.) Not sure about Paul Solomon, who’s leaving office — but you can reach Angelo Firenze through at info@angelofirenze.com. Get those e-mails coming, people. Also check the town calendar for Warrant Committee meetings. BloggingBelmont will post notice of them as we learn.

  • Paul Looney

    Paul,
    “Cut your Starbucks intake by one Venti a week. That’ll more than pay for whatever your share will be. Trust me”

    I’ll reserve my judgement on FDK but would like to know how many Venti’s one can Buy at Starbucks for $2,400 which is the approx amount individual property taxes are expected to climb per home in Belmont in 4 years assuming we get a new Wellington (clearly needed), a road repair plan, and a level service budget… not including FDK.

    Happy Holidays.

  • paul

    First off — congratulations! You’re my first comment! Thanks for sending your thoughts.

    Now, on to business. Ok…ok. Paul. You’re right. One Venti a week might be an exaggeration. I like the Cafe Mochas at Starbucks. A Venti of one of those is $4.05. Figure five of those a week — that’s $1,053 a year. You’re spending half that for a plain coffee — around $500 a year. And for that price — $500 or $1,000 — each year you get…a cup of coffee.

    For $2,400 a year, we get a new school in which to educate the next generation of our town and our country’s leaders. We’ll also remove our children from a crumbling, dangerous environment that’s costing us money each year to maintain. Is it worth 2x to 4x your yearly coffee budget to get that? It seems like not such a hard choice to me, frankly.

    Paul

  • Paul,
    I think you may have spent my Starbuck money twice. IN your original post you spent it on FDK and then in your response to Pauls email you spent it on repairing the Wellington. Then the town will need to spend it on repairing our roads and the Senior Center that has been approved.
    You are also making a false assumption that we all go to Starbucks frequently. Whiel there is a population in Belmont that does go toStarbucks every day, there is also a population that goes to Dunkin DOnuts, there are even people like my husband and myself who make tea at home most mornings and consider pulling into D&D a treat.
    On FDK, my intsincts are against it. THese are really little kids . I remember how tired my kids were after kindergarten and even after first grade.
    I don’t have the time to read through all the articles for and against FDK but I was able to skim a few that stated it wasn’t how long the day was as much as how affectively the time was used.
    The arguement that a “longer day woudl allow for more free time and play”doesn’t make sense to me because the children who want or need more socializing are already able to do that afterschool on playdates or gymnastics classes or whatever it is they enjoy. Kids who are not old enough to take any more socializing are free to go home and relax.
    The point that after school care is expensive doesn’t have any place in the FDK discussion . Early Day care and Preschool are also expensive -should the town also relieve this financiall burden from the parents?
    Forgive the misspellings and unfinshed thoughts , I don’t have the time to respond more in depth as I would like to but look forward to dialoging on this and other topics.

  • paul

    Hey Stacy. Thanks for writing! Just to clarify: I believe Paul’s $2,400 number came from taking the avg. annual tax bill in town, which is just under $8,300 and multiplying it by .3, using the BCH figure quoted from Floyd Carman, Town Treasurer. A couple things to note: that figure covers roads and schools and, possibly, an operational override. The second point is that this is a %30 increase over a four year time period, not %30 all at once, so figure around %8 per year — around $670 — per household for four years.

    One other thing to note is that, according to town data, Belmont has the lowest tax rate now as its had at any time in the last thirty years, and that the property tax rate — currently 10.31 percent has gone down every year for the last decade. Don’t believe me..check out the town’s own data here: http://www.town.belmont.ma.us/Public_Documents/BelmontMA_Treasurer/
    My grandmother told me to never count the change in other people’s pockets, which I think is very good advice. But I will say that for those families that cannot afford to pay their taxes, the town offers abatements. My point about Starbucks is that we all make decisions individually and as a community about what’s important to us, what our values are and what we are and are not willing to pay for. Some people don’t do Starbucks every day, some do it multiple times a day. Everyone who pays too much for their coffee, however, make a statement by doing so: coffee is important to me. It’s something I value and am willing to pay for. At a very basic level, the town is asking its residents to make a similar declaration: are your schools important enough to you to reach into your pocket and pay for keeping them up? are your roads (a point of civic pride, I’d argue – granite curbs and all) important enough to pay to maintain them? If not, well … there you have it.

    As for the Full Day K — this is a $350,000 item. That’s an increase of 1% of the school operating budget. Full day kindergarten costs $2,000 per child for families in this town — that’s $2,000 less to spend in Belmont’s struggling stores. K-ED programs: the best measure of interest and demand for full day kindergarten in town, are full or oversubscribed in every public school. You may not like the notion of full day K. That’s totally fine. Massachusetts law does not require you to send your child to Kindgergarten. You are free to keep him or her home. You are also free to pay for a private kindergarten, though every one I know of is full day, also. (I may be wrong). I personally think that your opinion is a small minority of parents in this town – a vocal minority, but a very small one. I’ve already signaled my support, as a parent for full day K. Clearly those of us who want it are going to have to fight for it every step of the way. Unfortunately, we’ll be fighting against fellow parents in the process. I think it’s very sad.

  • Lisa Gibalerio

    Paul – If you think it is “very sad” to be pitted against fellow parents over this issue — Why, was your second comment at the meeting Tuesday night dripping with disdain, hostility and contempt for those parents who expressed a viewpoint different from yours. At the very least shouldn’t we keep this discussion respectful?

    –Lisa

  • paul

    Lisa. First of all, thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate all the new readers.

    I believe my comment was totally consistent with what I just wrote — that the 80 to 90 percent of parents in town who are in favor of having a full day kindergarten shouldn’t have to fight a rear guard action against a small minority of parents who, for whatever reason, are against it. My comment that you shouldn’t believe everything you find on Google just seems like common sense. Frankly, i couldn’t believe that we were wasting the School Committee’s time debating the conclusions of Rand Corp. studies or methodology. I’m not a statistician, and neither was anyone else there, as far as I know. Beyond that, nobody’s said or pointed to a single piece of evidence that suggests FDK is detrimental to kids in any way, and there is a significant body of work that says it is a big plus for them, in addition to being desperately sought by the majority of families in this town. If you heard frustration, it was with that.

    You know, Lisa. The way i see is this: you’re a parent. I’m a parent. You want this town to have good, safe, well funded schools. So do I. I’ll bet if we were to sit down, we’d agree on 90 to 100 percent of the important issues facing this town. But if $350,000 dollars and three extra hours of kindergarten for the first year of our kids 13 years in the BPS is your Rubicon, and you want to forget about everything else we agree about to keep it from happening…that, indeed, is too bad for the town, our schools and us. We’re going to be too busy fighting against each other to stand together against the folks who don’t want new funding for the schools in K, 1,2, 3, 4 or 12th grade. Right?

  • Lisa Gibalerio

    Paul – Thanks. Interesting assumption you make about me. To be clear, I am not necessarily opposed to FDK. What I am opposed to is the frustration you speak of crossing over to hostility and contempt. We will never win over the 10 percent who are oppose, if we treat them badly – e.g. disrespectfully. [A lot of “blue states” in the middle of our country turned “red” when certain democratic candidates became contemptuous of the people in those states.]

    I was not questioning your content – just requesting that the tone be kept respectful . . . as this issue continues.

  • paul

    Lisa. My apologies if I read too much into your previous post. It was an assumption (and you know what they say about those who “ass-u-me”), and I’m thrilled that it was an incorrect assumption. I look forward to your support as we push for approval of the meager 1% school budget increase to fund FDK this winter!

    You know, this is so not about Red States vs. Blue States. And I think if you see it in those terms, you’re really missing the point and making more of this than it is. This is about a dad trying hard to make sure his 3 year old gets the quality kindergarten experience that his 7 and 5 year old have missed. Period.

    As for my Google quip, I’ll say that I’m someone who’s very willing to admit when he’s wrong. And you can ask people who know me. That said, I don’t think I treated anyone badly at the School Committee meeting. I really don’t. I made an observation about not believing everything you read online. As someone who spent the last six years as a technology journalist, that’s a subject near and dear to my heart. My comment, perhaps flippant, was totally appropriate in the context and not an effort to degrade anyone. The meeting was devolving into “my longitudinal study beats yours,” and I thought that was silly. What mattered to me was the presence of more than a dozen of our most cherished educators in the room, at 9:30PM on a school night to tell us that THEY felt FDK was important to our kids and that we, as a town, needed it. You heard frustration in my voice, that’s true, and that’s my right. I feel passionately about FDK. I ran for Town Meeting on it and got elected on it. I wanted it last year and, frankly, some of those good, well intentioned people speaking against it at the meeting kept me and the Belmont families I represent from getting it.

    Look, this is a democracy we live in. And that was a public meeting of an elected board of our town. Nobody was shouted down. Nobody was attacked ad hominem before, during or after their remarks. People disagreed. That’s all. I’m someone who speaks his mind and expects other to do so, too. I know that if you get up to speak — as I and others did — you should _fully_ expect to have someone else hear you out, then come up and tell you they disagree, that they think your ideas are without merit and that they see things totally differently. It’s happened to me plenty of times at Town Meeting and in other forums (it’s happening on this blog, which I think is great). It’s not disrespectful, it’s how ideas evolve and decisions get made. That’s how democracy works, right? Its not a polite-athon, nor has it ever been. And that’s a great thing.

    Again, Lisa. I think there’s a lot we agree on including, hopefully, funding for FDK. I’m thrilled you’re reading and participating in the B2 blog and, as the discussion broadens, I’m really looking forward to your input. Hopefully we can meet face to face as well, Lisa.

  • I am wondering where the “80 to 90 percent in support” figure came from? It may very well be accurate but I am wondering if it is an estimate you have made or if there is a more solid basis for it? Also, I have lived in Belmont for 12 years and have never had anyone say they were desperate for childcare or FDK.
    I was under the impression we were, and the School Committee Meeting served the function of, having a dialog. You are phrase it as us “fighting”. Many people , like myself have not been able to follow this as closely as we would like . We should be free to ask questions and voice our concerns and be treated with respect when we do so. I have to agree with Lisa on your approach. “Debating” as you put it is never a waste of time but a process you always want a community to go throught before reaching a conclusion. These decisions should never be made behind closed doors. “Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant” and I would suggest it is often more important to consider people with conflicting opinions than those who agree with you. There may be points that are valid and have not been considered.

    “As for the Full Day K — this is a $350,000 item. That’s an increase of 1% of the school operating budget” While it is only 1% is is still a large amount of money that could be used to hire teachers for the other grades and so keep class size down? If class size continue to increase, which it will as Belmonts population increases, any benifits from FDK will be lost as children enter higher grades with a higher teacher/student ratio.

  • paul

    Look, Stacey. These blog debates can be endless and, because they’re basically anonymous, it’s easy for them to get unfriendly. If you like, I’d be happy to take this offline, in an e-mail exchange or to meet for coffee and discuss this issue, the School Committee meeting, whatever.

  • Anne Mahon

    So I think that what also needs to be considered here is that we had $5M in free cash at the end of last year and this year had $3M. Everyone is concerned about what we have to give up to pay for something additional. When you have MILLIONS of DOLLARS sitting in our account from one year to the next, it’s time to stop using words like level service budget and sacrifice. We dumped several million into the roads last year and the Warrant Committee and selectmen are pushing for a road override and a new Wellington – yes – everyone who has been to Wellington realizes immediately that it is in dire need of replacement – including the State who has put us on the short list for a grant. And speaking of the State, there is a good chance they will give us a grant for full day K since they read the same studies and see the importance of not cramming a large amount of material into a child in 3 hours but instead spoon feeding it slowly so that they can chew and swallow.

    And as far as an operating override is concerned, the Selectmen and Warrant Committee want to put this off for another year but they also say the money in Free Cash can not fund salaries since those are recurring expenses. Since roads are not, I don’t understand why we aren’t going for the operational override – fire, police, town and teacher salaries and using the free cash again to fund the roads.

    Regarding Lisa’s message about tone, it’s one of those things that you don’t realize when you are up there and passionate, but it was too tough – believe me, I make the same mistake and have been called a bully (or worse) when I fight for additional school funding. Lisa’s trying to say that you need to be careful of that and try to keep your opposition in the circle of friends instead of giving them a reason to rally against you or what you believe in. Remember, there are mom’s that chose to stay at home – sacrifice additional pay – so that they could love on their children. That’s a hard one to disagree with – but if they truly haven’t put any of their older children in BEDP, they will miss that time with their kids. They are the ones who have time to homeschool the stuff that doesn’t sink in. It’s the families out there that are too busy trying to make ends meet that they can’t or don’t commit to the schoolwork at home.
    And Stacy is curious about actual numbers. While it’s easy to see why parents of young children who are on their way to kindergarten would want it, it’s not always a foregone conclusion that every citizen of Belmont would want it. Our Principals and teachers however do get a lot of respect from the community and since they are so in favor of it, it’s hard to push that aside. Especially when someone as great as Bruce McDonald has been asking for it for years. I think a state grant to support some of the cost would make it much more likely so a letter to Deval Patrick and Patricia Haddad should also be on the list of things to do. Belmont citizens give so much money in state income tax and we see so little coming back from the state to support Belmont that I believe we have a good argument in getting support on something that doesn’t cost so much.
    And in case I didn’t say it – I do support Full Day K as well because of the issues listed above – slow and steady, not pushed into a short time. I trust the judgement of the people who have spent their lives focusing on the education of our children. And while we’re at it, lets look at the KED personell and see if they can’t help in the adaptation of these programs since they are wonderful with the kids.

    So this has been fun – Happy Holidays to all and to all a good night!

  • swoosh

    Haven’t seen anything in the above comments about the fact that FDK will financially destroy all the existing after-school programs at Belmont’s elementary schools. These programs are run by the respective shool PTOs, and a sizable proportion of their program income comes from “Kindergarten-Extended-Day” which is daycare for the Ks until regular school closing at 2:30 pm.
    FDK may produce the benefit of lower turnover of K-level teachers in the Belmont schools, but it will also put a substantial number of daycare providers out of work.

  • Christine

    Thank you, Paul, for launching this website as well as the important discussions taking place here! I applaud you for speaking your mind so freely and representing the interests of our children. We moved to Belmont 2+ years ago with a very young child. We decided to buy in Belmont, invest in Belmont, because we trusted that the town would reciprocate. Our daughter will be entering the public school system in 2009 and I am optimistically hopeful that she will reap the benefits of our work, namely FDK. It’s needed. Our children are more socially, academically and emotionally mature than previous generations. Most have been in a pre-school program before entering Kindergarten. My daughter is in full day pre-school and will be in full day pre-k before entering the system. She is able to read/write/spell basic words, accomplish everyday math, and is learning spanish! A program that offers less than FDK will be a step back, in my opinion. The discussion shouldn’t center primarily on the cost of programming, but rather the merits of FDK. Our children are more than worth the investment. If the increase in cost is a deal breaker, lets start talking about a “Pay for FDK” model like the one that exists in Arlington. And then what’s the objection??

  • paul

    Thanks for writing, Christine! And thanks for your support. I totally agree. As I’ve said in my response to other comments, I worry that the powers that be in town are doing quite well by pitting groups of parents against each other over issues like FDK — basically trying to scare us into working for change across the board. So we’ve got a dynamic where parents of high school students fear that an extra 1% for FDK will sink programs their kids use or — as Swoosh’s comment suggests — that other PTO run programs will go away if FDK does, also. Frankly, it’s kind of an impoverished way of looking at things: if one group in town benefits, whether its seniors or kindergartners, then I stand to lose, therefore I’ll oppose anything but the status quo.

    Of course, if parents and families stand together and speak with one voice, we’re a powerful force and can win across the board change from the current elected officials or, barring that, get new officials elected who will give us what we want. And we’re going to have to do this, because the financial challenges facing the town are so great. Just listing a few: there are renovations to the high school to avoid decreditation, a new library, a new Wellington, FDK, a proposed senior center and police station and more than $200m in unfunded liabilities for current and former town employees. I hate to say it, but just trying to hold the line (aka “level service budgeting”) means that everyone will lose in the end as services get winnowed down to pay for exploding costs elsewhere. We’ve got to push for what our kids need — not just FDK, which may be mandated by Deval Patrick’s administration soon enough, anyway– but all those other things, and a healthy and diverse commercial base in town to help homeowners shoulder the burden of those costs, not to mention more efficient town operations to reduce overhead and accountability for cost overruns and shoddy work, as on the Town Hall renovation. We should be demanding these kinds of big picture changes, not sniping at each other over a $350,000 item.

    My 2c.

    Paul.

  • heather

    Paul, thank you for your passion on this…my family also shares your view and are in a similar situation as Christine our children love their pre-school and I believe will be entering kindergarten as Christine put it “more socially, academically and emotionally mature than previous generations”. Three extra hours in an academic environment spent learning or playing with friends is something I know my children will love as they do now, notwithstanding the little bit of comfort that working parents, may get from this- and they deserve it.

    I also agree with Anne, “When you have MILLIONS of DOLLARS sitting in our account from one year to the next, it’s time to stop using words like level service budget and sacrifice.” As a former resident of Concord I have to say that I am so tired of hearing the debate over money to spend on schools when these affluent towns have plenty of it! I can’t believe the state of our schools both here and in Concord – both the facilities and the short kindergarten day offered.
    If our teachers and educators believe three extra hours are better for our children, please let us all support it also! Common sense!

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  • Mr. H – WBCC Director

    Wow,

    This is an impressive forum for the sharing of ideas related to what I hope is everyone’s number one priority with the FDK issue – the kids.

    Paul – I agree with Lisa that you were quite disrespectful at the 12/11 meeting. You began your response to the opposing parent by saying “With all due respect…” and then you ripped into the parent, her opinion, and where she got her information, without an ounce of respect. She has an opinion; so do you. But you did not give her respect in your response; you were quite rude. We don’t need that kind of hostility, we need to work together, and respect our differences, and in turn, our differing opinions, if we want to resolve this issue.

    That being said, I commend your passion and dedication towards the issue, and feel we would be well served if more parents would get as involved and invested as you are. I do feel it is best for the town and the children who live here, to get FDK established.

    It will not, as someone said above, destroy the After School programs in town, but it will affect them and the KED staff that has been serving our community all these years. A lot of incredibly dedicated people will lose their jobs and that is less than desirable. But it may be a necessary sacrifice in order to make progress within our school system. And we should be grateful for the years of tremendous service, no matter how we feel about FDK.

    I resent the statement by “Anonymous” (sounds familiar) about the lack of quality planning and curriculum that goes into the KED programs at the schools. Sounds to me like a lack communication with the staff at her particular program about what transitions are taking place. If your going to make a statement questioning the quality of care that takes place at our program, at least have the courage to put your name behind your words.

    The program in question, I believe, has been flawed in not establishing and maintaining a strong connection in curriculum between the KED classes. This is an issue that we will be fixing as we move forward with KED (if there is KED), so that we are offering a similar experience to both classes. Before making such generalized and ill-informed statements that diminish the efforts of the “wonderful” staff you go on to criticize, I would try to talk to the staff about why things are working the way they do.

    While I think we should do everything we can to prepare our children for success in their schooling, they need time to be kids. More “academically mature”, they may well be, but I strongly disagree that this generation of kids is more socially and emotionally mature than previous generations. If anything, it seems the opposite. They need more guidance than ever in conflict resolution, working together, and being respectful of their peers. That’s something that is happens in KED, and I’m sure will continue if there is FDK.

    KIDS NEED TIME TO BE KIDS!!!!!

    Unless all we aim to do is prepare them for the workforce…

  • paul

    Thanks for your comments Mr. H. I think I addressed the Dec. 11 meeting a while ago and at length. You are right that I do have strong feelings about these issues, but you’re also right that the discussion must remain civil. I’ll tone it down in the future.

    I tend to agree with you about the need for kids to be kids and have less structured time. I’m just not sure that a half day versus full day of school in their first year really contributes one way or the other to that. The real issue is that you have many more two income families and parents need to find structured, adult-supervised activities for their kids to cover the hours between the end of school and the end of work. When I was growing up, there were more stay at home parents, and those were hours when my friends and I would play in our neighborhood without any parental supervision. Conflict resolution, working together and a host of other useful coping skills grew out of that, not my lax kindergarten year. I’m not sure you can put the genie back in the “managed childhood” bag either– too many social and economic forces are working against it, among them: the decline in real wages that often requires two parents to work to support a middle class lifestyle, a lack of federal or state support for parents in the form of paid maternity and paternity leave, subsidized childcare or steady support for town sponsored youth groups and activities, widespread fear of child abductions (though those appear to be well founded in our own community) etc. etc.

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