By Dave Fidlin
School officials in the Waterford Graded district have abandoned plans to offer 4-year-old kindergarten classes – at least for the foreseeable future.
At a recent Policy and Curriculum Committee meeting, members of the School Board voted 4-1 not to pursue the proposal at this time.
While the onset of the 2013-14 school year is still months away, Superintendent Chris Joch said a decision was needed at this point.
“If it’s one of those things we’re going to do, we’re going to have to start now to have it up and running in the fall,” Joch said.
Waterford Graded’s board and administrators had been discussing 4K in recent months. Adding it to district curriculum could potentially shore up enrollment declines – a trend the district has been grappling with in recent years.
Joch said there has been interest in having 4K offered at Waterford Graded, and he has fielded inquiries on the status of the offering from prospective residents.
“There has been interest out there,” Joch said.
From a financial standpoint, Waterford Graded could potentially receive more in state aid – one of the district’s two primary sources of revenue.
But the additional funding would not kick in for several years because the state uses a three-year rolling average in enrollment when determining the amount of funding if offers each district.
If 4K were added, the district also would be bound by following strict regulations.
For example, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires all districts offering 4K hire kindergarten certified teachers. The cost of hiring a professional with the special designation raised concerns from several board members.
During the recent discussion, several board members were critical of the proposal.
“I don’t see the point of doing it, other than it’s free daycare,” School Board President Dan Jensen said. “At that age, I think children learn more from their parents.”
Jensen added: “Research has shown that (4K) doesn’t increase test scores. I’m just not convinced kids will be at an advantage if they’re in it.”
Jensen also criticized state education officials for putting money toward 4K. He argued that funding 4K inevitably funnels dollars out of traditional education in 5-year-oldkindergarten to grade 12.
But not everyone on the board was against the notion of adding 4K to the district.
School Board member Robert Kastengren, the sole dissenter of the motion, said he believed adding 4K to Waterford Graded could be a positive to the district.
“I’d hate to see us just flippantly dismiss it,” Kastengren said. “I think we’re going to end up shortchanged when other districts are ahead because there is demand out there for it.”
Between 80 and 85 school districts across the state currently offer 4K.