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All-day kindergarten supply budget cut 75 percent

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District 833 has been working hard to manage its budget and keep costs down, and this includes the heads of Community Education's Kindergarten Plus all-day kindergarten program.

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The Kindergarten Plus program's supply budget is dropping from $1,000 per classroom to $250 per classroom. There are currently 35 sections, housing nearly 700 students, at all 16 elementary schools in the district.

"Because this is a fee-based program, we try really hard to keep the costs down as best we can for parents," said Ernie Pines, Community Education director. "We looked at where we could make some cuts, where it wouldn't really hurt the quality of the program and we felt we could cut that without really making any deficits to the quality of the program."

The Kindergarten Plus program costs $15 per day since the state only funds half-day kindergarten. The fee increased, from $14 to $15 in 2008, the first time in seven years.

The majority of the fees collected, about 50 percent, go to teacher salaries and benefits. The rest of the fees are distributed among substitute teachers, physical education, art and music opportunities, supplies and some administrative costs.

Each year, the district must make a best guess on what the budget will be for the following year based on the estimated number of students, number of sections and teacher salaries, said Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent for elementary schools."

By cutting the supply budget, Pines and Bernhardson said they believed that now the all-day kindergarten would be more in sync with the half-day kindergarten programs since they don't receive such a generous supply budget.

"I was happy to have that ample supply budget while we could afford it, but that opportunity is gone," Pines said. "Plus a lot of supplies have been purchased in previous years that can be used in years to come."

Much of the supply budget goes toward edibles such as milk or snacks.

Pines and Bernhardson both said they believe that cutting the supply budget was necessary to avoid raising the cost of the program. They also said they believe that cutting the supply budget will not have adverse effects on the quality of education the students will receive.

"The level of service their kids would receive would have a minimal impact if any at all in the classroom," Bernhardson said.

However, not everyone is sold on the idea that cutting the supply budget by such a substantial amount will have no adverse effects.

Recently, Pines received an e-mail from a concerned parent over the dramatic supply budget cut. The parent was frustrated that a lower percentage of the fees that they pay will be going back into the classroom, and that the fees parents pay aren't going down because of the cut.

"I tried to answer his concerns as best I could," Pines said. "But sometimes an answer is not what someone wants to hear."

Pines said this was the first complaint he has heard in all the years he has been involved with the Kindergarten Plus program.

Pines and Bernhardson said they believe most parents and students, will not notice any difference in the services the program provides.

"I don't think the vast majority of parents either know or will ever see that there is an impact," Pines said. "Frankly, I don't think it's going to be evident -- the supply budget is at least adequate, if not more than adequate."

In the future, if the economic climate remains where it is, the district may have to re-evaluate the budget once again, but raising the fee would be their last resort.

"Teacher salaries aren't going to go down, but we're going to do our best to hold this where it is for as long as we can," Bernhardson said.

More online: For more information about the Kindergarten Plus program, visit the District 833 Community Education Web site, http://www.cecool.com/kplus.php

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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