A presentation on full day kindergarten Monday night convinced Board of Education members that it would benefit Monroe's children. Supt. of Schools James Agostine will prepare cost estimates for the school board to review as the budget process for fiscal year 2013-14 gets underway.
Out of 21 school districts in Fairfield County, Monroe, Newtown and Shelton are the only ones who still have half day kindergarten. According to a presentation by Sheila Casinelli and Deb Kovachi, children in half day kindergarten will be 40% behind students who took full day as they enter first grade.
"I think this board should have the resolve to do full day kindergarten," said board secretary, Mark Hughes. "We're the ones who set how the budget is spent. If the budget is cut, it's not on us, it's on those other boards and commissions."
Fellow school board member, Dr. Alan Vaglivelo, agreed and made a motion to approve switching to full day kindergarten.
"Is there any reason not to vote on full day kindergarten tonight?" Vaglivelo asked. "It seems like a no brainer."
But he later withdrew it when other board members said they wanted to get more information on what's needed and what it will cost.
"It's a first read tonight," said Chairman Darrell Trump. "I don't want to rush through it."
Board member, Mark Antinozzi, expressed concern over the possibility of the board approving full day kindergarten, only for the funding not to be approved in the next budget, forcing cuts elsewhere.
"I don't want to see class sizes increase if we have to cut staff to do it," he said. "I hope we have support from parents at referendum time, as well as from the first selectman. I just hope we can afford it."
First Selectman Steve Vavrek attended the meeting.
"As an ex-officio member, I fully support full day kindergarten," Vavrek said.
However, he noted that some of the towns with full day K do not have their budgets voted on at a referendum. "We have to weigh that," he said. "We all live in a town which has a referendum system. We have to do it right the first time."
Vavrek said it's up to Agostine and his finance director, Gabriella DiBlasi, to "get the right numbers".
Voters passed the budget on the first referendum vote the last two times, but both included zero percent spending increases for Monroe's schools — a fact that makes some educators nervous about committing to spending the money needed for full day K.
Though there would be some cost increases, Agostine said some of it would be offset by savings such as $40,000 from the elimination of a mid-day bus run.
Antinozzi expressed his belief that board members should publicly back a change to full day kindergarten, because they are charged with advocating for "the best education" for Monroe's children.
"We have to set the policy," he said. "We have to set the course we're going to take. I think full day kindergarten is the best thing. We have to say we want it. We have to say, 'This is what we're going to do.'"