Kindergarten an issue in Mont Vernon

MONT VERNON – There will be a referendum – sort of – on fullday kindergarten, even though Mont Vernon Village School’s full-day program is in its second year and school officials say it will continue no matter what voters do March 8.

A petition article on the school district warrant will asks if kindergarten should be expanded to a nontuition, full-day program. At the district’s Deliberative Session on Feb. 3, Trevor Girard, one of the petitioners, said he isn’t against full-day kindergarten, but is concerned about funding, according to the meeting minutes. He said taxpayers should have a say. School officials said the article is advisory only, and wouldn’t bind the School Board. They said kindergarten wouldn’t go back to a half-day program if voters vote down the article.

The town authorized full-day kindergarten when it approved kindergarten years ago, and it has a right to expand the program, officials said. Years ago, "We decided on part time only because of the number of kids enrolled in the first year," said Peter King, who was on the original kindergarten committee. Girard, however, said he believes a vote on the article would be binding, and that if it doesn’t pass, full-day kindergarten would be funded half from the operating budget and half from tuition.

An attempt to amend the article so it would simply read, "Shall the Mont Vernon School District expand the kindergarten program" failed, and it will go on the ballot as written. The School Board’s $4.6 million operating budget, a decrease of 2.21 percent from this year’s default budget, also went on the ballot with no changes after a discussion about taxes, staffing and costs per pupil.

The decrease was attributed to fewer students tuitioning to Amherst Middle School, along with a smaller overall ratio of Mont Vernon students at the school. There are also fewer special education students sent out of district and lower transportation costs because of lower fuel prices. Offsetting the decreases is a drop in federal and state aid, along with the cost of improving STEM education and strengthening the school’s literacy program.

The Budget Committee unanimously recommends passage of the budget, which would lower the local school tax rate of $14.36 by 93 cents. Last year, the Budget Committee rejected the budget, and committee member Mike Fimbel said this year the School Board did a good job of offering a realistic budget.

Committee member Bill Archibald talked about the inequity of using real estate taxes to fund schools, and said the state should have some kind of broad-based tax. Voters at the Deliberative Session also put on the ballot an article that would add $26,134 in surplus funds to the school maintenance trust fund, and another article to establish a capital reserve fund to cover the costs of educating students with disabilities and adding $30,000 from a surplus to the fund.

The only article that was amended was one for $14,216 to buy equipment for live streaming of board meetings. Neither the School Board nor the Budget Committee support, the proposal, and the dollar amount was changed to zero. Town Election Day is Tuesday, March 8, from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at Village School.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.