Doing the math on kindergarten
Like Gerry St. Amand, the principal of Amherst’s Clark-Wilkins Elementary School, we believe that all-day kindergarten should be a priority for the School District. That’s what he told the School Board recently, and the board is backing him on the concept and on his plan to get it funded.
It is with the funding that we have some doubts. It is not that we oppose St. Amand’s plan, it’s just that we aren’t sure it isn’t going to backfire.
He has proposed putting money for kindergarten, about $620,000, into the district’s operating budget because last March, when it was a separate warrant article, voters soundly rejected it. Of course they also rejected the budgets of the Amherst and Souhegan school districts.
What it is difficult to discern is why voters shot down kindergarten. Was it because of the money or for philosophical, anti-all-day kindergarten reasons? We don’t know; perhaps the school district does.
Still, we agree strongly with St. Amand that kindergarten, as he said, "is something we should do" because, again in his words, it "fits into our strategic plans."
He is convinced that despite inserting $620,000 into the district budget, he can hold any budget increase to zero percent and implement kindergarten by shifting around staff. We have no reason to doubt that he believes it can be done, and apparently the School Board agrees.
What makes us curious, though, is how that $620,000 will fit into a default budget. As we have all come to learn in the last two decades, default budgets are often those under which school districts and towns end up operating because voters, in their wisdom, reject proposed operating budgets. And default budgets are lower, although sometimes in a very small way, than proposed operating budgets.
So, suppose voters come out and shoot down the School District budget again? Can St. Amand still give us all-day kindergarten by shifting staff and without cutting another important program?
We assume he can, otherwise he would not have proposed doing it this way. Good.
We believe, as do Amherst school officials and teachers, that 5-year-olds need a full day of kindergarten. Many other towns, including Mont Vernon, which shares with Amherst the Souhegan School District, have all-day kindergarten, and we think Amherst kids need it to keep up with their neighbors.
We won’t know how voters feel until March, but we hope they agree. Kids need all the learning they can get. All-day kindergarten is one way to ensure that they get it.