December 05, 2012 - The Mehlville Board of Education cast a historic vote last week with its approval of tuition-free, full-day kindergarten, according to Superintendent Eric Knost.
"For us to be able to offer what we feel is needed and appropriate for the curriculum without tuition is historic," Knost told the Call, "and I would say it's historic because in years past these kinds of decisions were attempted to be made with a ballot."
Board President Venki Palamand said tuition-free, full-day kindergarten, which the board unanimously approved at its Nov. 29 meeting, is a win-win for the district because it will generate potentially $900,000 of additional revenue and increase instructional time.
"It's going to work out to something like 500 more instructional hours for kindergarteners, and that's the best place to make an investment because that's really (an) intervention point," Palamand said.
Though full-day kindergarten will be the new standard beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, Knost said there still will be opportunities for a half-day setting.
Students can remain in a full-day classroom with an exit point halfway through the day; or, if at least 15 students prefer a traditional half-day setting, one half-day class will be at Hagemann Elementary School.
Parents would have to provide transportation for their children to Hagemann.
District officials presented curriculum changes, potential enrollment figures and the financial impact of tuition-free kindergarten to the board at its Nov. 29 meeting.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Tina Plummer told the board the Common Core State Standards — national education standards that prepare students for college and the work force — were designed to look at what students should know when they graduate high school.
"The efforts to prepare our students for this college and career-readiness begins in kindergarten," Plummer said. "Full-day kindergarten can afford our children the academic learning time needed to meet the highly rigorous standards that are required by the Common Core State Standards."
There are more than 25 new standards at the kindergarten level, according to Plummer, which include learning addition and subtraction and writing complete sentences with nouns and action verbs, both of which were previously taught in first grade.
Board Vice President Elaine Powers asked if any changes will be made to teacher training due to the new requirements, some of which she said are "pretty aggressive."
"I know it's coming to us from others, but we're adding all these really high expectations onto kids, which then means we're adding all these really high expectations onto teachers," Powers said.
Any classroom that reaches 25 students will have a teacher's assistant who is a certified teacher, according to Knost.
Mehlville had 512 students enroll for kindergarten during the early enrollment week in October, but Knost said district officials are "quite confident" enrollment will increase. Mehlville has 934 potential kindergarten-age students, though Knost said the district will not gain all 934 students.
If enrollment remains at 512, no students would be relocated to different schools, according to Brian Lane, assistant superintendent of supervision of schools.
However, if 650 students enroll, seven students would relocate; and if 765 students enroll, 43 students would relocate.
"We historically average somewhere in the 40 to 60 range of students who have to travel now for full-day kindergarten because we can't accommodate them at the home school ...," Lane said. "It would not be outside of the norm that we're going to have students that would need to travel."
After one year at a relocated school, Lane said students have the right to return to their home school or apply for school choice, which he is "almost always" able to grant.
Regardless, Knost said there will be situations where parents are upset because their children have to travel to a different school.
"It's going to happen. It's not going to happen in great masses, but we will have some situations that just are not the perfect situation for various families," Knost said.
Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch told the board the district currently receives roughly $1,200 per student from the state due to being on the state's foundation formula and would receive an additional $1,308,000 with the transition to full-day kindergarten if enrollment remains at 512.
Lost tuition and added expenses for personnel costs and supplies would equate to the district receiving a net of $593,000 compared to what it receives today.
But Knost said he believes having 765 students enrolled is "very realistic," which would net the district $1,434,000, according to information provided to the board.
Board member Rich Franz asked what would happen if the state could not make its payments to the district. Knobloch said such a situation would not be isolated to Mehlville alone.
"The way the state would say, 'You're not going to get the money,' is they would knock the 92 percent (estimated funding formula payment) down to whatever it is to fund the formula across the state," he said.
Knost said not receiving funding from the state could happen at any time and the district would do what it has always done — build a budget accordingly and "tighten our belts."