Second vote on full-day kindergarten put off

Scheduled for April 24 after public hearing

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By Fran Hardy
— A near capacity audience filled the Mohawk Avenue School auditorium Monday night, with most expecting the Board of Education to re-open their discussion on full-day kindergarten and take a second vote on whether to implement the program for next fall.

That did not happen.
At their work session last week, Board Member Frank Favichia said he wanted to change his vote and suggested the board revisit the issue and vote again. Favichia voted against a full-day kindergarten program last month, when the proposal was voted down 5-3.

The board agreed to further discuss the matter and possibly vote again at their regular meeting this week.

But Superintendent Dennis Tobin said that since the board has already approved a tentative budget which has been submitted to the county superintendent for preliminary approval, they must first go forward with a public hearing on the budget before they can rescind any prior votes and vote again.

After the public hearing, the board can make a motion to revisit the original proposal, Tobin said.

“I have been a proponent of full-day kindergarten since we began these discussions," Tobin said. "But I’m a little disappointed by this timing.”

He explained that knowing whether or not full-day kindergarten would be implemented has a major impact on how the budget was built and since the board voted against it, the tentative budget was put together without it. If the board wants to include the full-day program, many changes must be made, he said.

Changes include preparations for staffing, such as posting job openings, interviewing, and hiring. Tobin said that if the school district needs to hire new staff for a full-day program, they are already behind other districts.

If the board decided to vote again on Monday night, they would be voting on a program without knowing how it will be funded and what would be removed from the current tentative budget, Tobin said.

“Nobody in Sparta wants full-day kindergarten more than I do,” Tobin said.

But he added that to reconsider the program at this point the administration would need additional time to reconfigure the budget which currently includes the use of $700, 000 in banked cap funds, along with funds from their capital projects reserve and their maintenance reserve, to fund more than $2 million in capital projects.

In Tobin’s original proposal to fund full-day kindergarten, the entire banked cap of more than $1 million would be used. These are funds which have accrued since the district’s 2011-2012 budget came in under the state’s two percent tax levy cap.

By law, these funds can be used within three years to exceed the cap and the funds then become part of the district’s base budget going forward. If not used in the 2012-2015 budget, Sparta will lose the funds.

To offset the tax impact of exceeding the two percent levy this year, Tobin suggested the use of around $1.5 million in Fund 30 monies, left over from the high school reconstruction project. These funds, according to state law, can be applied to existing debt service to lessen ongoing tax impact. If the board chooses this option, the tax impact will likely stay at the two percent cap for next year.

Tobin said the finance committee would have another meeting April 14 to review and provide input on the administration’s changes and prepare a report for the board.

On April 17 a report on the amended budget will be made to the board and can be publicly discussed at the April 21 working session.

Tobin proposed that the budget hearing be moved from April 28 to April 24. He said after the public is allowed to weigh in, the board can choose to rescind their Feb. 24 vote and bring full-day kindergarten to another vote. If approved, the board would then vote to accept or reject the amended budget. If they vote full-day down again, they would then vote on the original budget.

If the board fails to approve a budget on April 24, they can schedule one more meeting on April 28 to come to a decision. The final approved budget must be submitted to the county superintendent by April 30.

Tobin said that if the board fails to make a final decision at that meeting, the budget would then go to the county superintendent for further development.

“At that time the board would lose control of their budget,” Tobin said.

Board president Karen Scott said the board has received numerous emails from members of the public over the last week, with the majority urging the board to support a full-day kindergarten program.

On Monday night, ten members of the public spoke during the first public participation period, most expressing disappointment that there would not be a re-vote this week, and strongly expressing their support for the program.

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