Milford mulls kindergarten

Tuition program might begin in 2017

MILFORD – A full-day kindergarten program, with the additional half day paid for by parents, is being considered by the School Board.

At last week’s board meeting, Schools Super­intendent Robert Marquis outlined a program with 32 students in two full-time sessions and an an­nual tuition cost of $3,602 per student.

Marquis and board Chairman Paul Dargie are in favor of expanding the program for the youngest learners, but the board hasn’t yet taken a vote.

"My sense is that the board supports it in gen­eral," Dargie said later in an email.

Several parents at the meeting said they were pleased and excited.

"Bravo," Bob Thompson said, because "thousands of research studies" show the value of full-day pro­grams for 5-year-olds.

Parents and board members, however, said they’re concerned about the issue of fairness: some 5-year-olds having this enrichment opportunity while the children of par­ents who can’t afford it wouldn’t have the same opportunity.

Board member Len Mannino questioned how to make a decision that only benefits families that have more resources, since the data shows the benefits of all-day kinder­garten.

Marquis agreed it was a moral issue and men­tioned the possibility of scholarships.

Board member Robert Willette said he has sev­eral concerns, including the impact of public kin­dergarten on private kin­dergarten programs.

The board will discuss details before it votes, Dargie said, including whether to put costs in a separate warrant article or add them to the operat­ing budget.

Whether to have two classrooms or three is an­other issue.

There are 137 kids in the current half-day pro­gram, and there is enough room in Jacques Memo­rial School for two more classrooms. The school was designed so a sec­ond story could be add­ed, Dargie said, and in the short term, portable classrooms could be used.

The intent is to make the program self-funding, he said, but all of the costs haven’t yet been cal­culated.

Although the state has been providing aid for kindergarten since it mandated half-day pro­grams several years ago, the aid doesn’t cover a full day.

According to Marquis’ report, the full-day stu­dents would get physical education, art and music instruction, and reading and writing skills prac­ticed in dramatic play. Teachers would engage the students in project-based learning to "dis­cover answers to real-world questions."

Mont Vernon and Am­herst now have free full-day kindergarten pro­grams. Although Amherst voters in 2015 rejected a $620,000 warrant article to expand the program, administrators said it was a high priority, and they fit the costs into their op­erating budget. Mont Ver­non administrators said declining enrollments allowed them to fit more kindergarten classes and cover the costs.

Brookline has a tuition full-day program, while Wilton-Lyndeborough has half day.

In 2009, New Hamp­shire began requiring every school district to of­fer half-day kindergarten, the last state to do that.

According to the New Hampshire Department of Education, the trend to­ward full-day kindergar­ten began soon afterward. By 2013-14, the last school year for which data is available, the number of school districts offering it had grown to 83.

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