Full-day kindergarten still on the table in Milford

MILFORD – Full-day kindergarten will not happen this year, but school officials say it’s possible there will be a program in 2018.

Last week, the School Board decided that with only 21 children signed up for a pilot full-day program, it wasn’t possible for it to be self-supporting. School officials had expected at least 32, and of the 21 who signed up, nine of them would have been eligible for a tuition waiver.

Voters approved a warrant article last March that authorized the expansion of the half-day program, but they also amended it to say it had to be offered at no expense to taxpayers.

This month, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law a bill that increases state funding for full-day kindergarten, providing additional funds to come from a newly legalized keno lottery.

The total state funding of $2,900, which is close to the standard per-pupil cost, will likely factor into the Milford board’s decision.

“We will be watching the state and the keno funding. It’s in the rough stages,” board Chairman Ron Carvell said. “I support full-day kindergarten, and we will continue to struggle to try to get the best program for the community.”

Carvell and schools Superintendent Robert Marquis said they were disappointed and don’t know why the program failed to attract enough families, but that they don’t think it was the $510-a-month tuition.

“I can’t point to one reason, “ Marquis said.

It could be some parents are used to private kindergardens or were concerned about taking business away from private programs, he said.

Jacques Memorial School Principal Nancy Maguire called parents after the board made its decision, Marquis said, and told them about the three private kindergartens that had openings.

Hampshire Hills Athletic Club has an afternoon-only program for kindergarten students, with swimming lessons, tennis and other sports. Owner Rick Holder said they’re considering expanding the program in response to Milford’s decision, and had heard from parents who he said were “outraged” by the decision.

The Milford School Board had planned for the program at the community’s request, but with the potentially small enrollment, it couldn’t continue without violating the spirit of the warrant article, said Carvell, who said they didn’t want to wait another month before making a decision.

Last year, the School Board spent many meetings discussing plans for the program, at one point considering a tuition of $350 a month, with taxpayers paying for children eligible for free and reduced lunches.

The program was planned for a half day of academics and a half day of enrichment so that all children received the same quality of instruction.

Milford has had a half-day kindergarten program since 2009, started after the state decided the education of 5-year-olds is an essential part of an adequate education.

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