Dozens crowded the School Committee meeting Tuesday night to protest changes to the preschool program.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Dozens of parents are hoping to save the Elementary School's preschool program that is threatened to be cut or reduced.
The residents crowded the school's library Tuesday night to tell the School Committee that they disapprove of changing the program. However, school officials say the program has been operating in a deficit for years and next year there is not a high enough enrollment to support the current model of two half-day programs.
"To cover that $34,000 deficit means somewhere something else has to be cut," School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego said. "Each year we have to look at where to trim. This program hasn't paid for itself in a long, long, long time."
According to Director of Pupil Service Kimberley Grady, the program created a deficit of $34,002 this year. The total revenue was about $42,940 compared to the $76,942 it costs to run the program. Contributing to that is nearly $2,000 in unpaid tuition.
Next year, a maximum of 15 children are expected into the program, which is a drop from 28 students in 2009. The school is required to provide service to the special education students and only five students fit that category. Ideally there should be an equal number of typical students and special education children, so a 15-member class is off balance with state recommendations. The program also needs to be realigned with state standards, she said.
Cutting or eliminating the program would not decrease staffing but allow the preschool teachers to fill needed roles in the kindergarten through third grade special education classrooms, Grady said.
Yet some parents feel that preschool education should become part of the school's regular operations and absorbed into the budget rather than being reduced or eliminated.
"It can't just be about the bottom line. It has to be about the kids first and the bottom line second," said resident Marie Russell. "I don't care about the taxes because we have an awesome school."
Teacher Marian Gennette added that while the program was initially implemented to be self-sufficient it has evolved into much more that than. Other parents shared stories how how the program has helped their kids and raved about its programming.
"This is a great program. There are a lot of children and we cannot let them down," said resident Tammy Cole-Seaman, who encouraged the committee to "think outside of the box" to save the program.
The preschool is one of the cheapest in the state with a fee of $16 a day, Grady said. On Tuesday, the committee raised the tuition to $18 but how many openings there will be is still under question. The committee held off on a vote on the program until another round of screenings is held so the committee knows exactly how many children will be enrolled.
"We are just responding to the reality that is around us," Superintendent of Schools Rose Ellis said. "We want the programming but there is limited resources."
Currently, the school budget is drafted to include both a morning and an afternoon class. Any money saved but eliminating the program will help future budgets, school officials say.
"There is nothing that says we can't bring it back," DiLego said.
The $2.8 million budget is expected to drain the school's reserve accounts to just $28,624. The district is hoping to raise that level to $60,000. Any line items under budget would roll into those accounts. Meanwhile, the school is slowly rebuilding some of its programming to address needs.
This budget includes additional funds for substitutes, professional development, electronics and additional hours from a full-time reading teacher, part-time special education teacher and a behavior specialist. The detailed budget is available below.
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