Full-day kindergarten canceled in Milford

MILFORD – Plans for a pilot full-day kindergarten program that was scheduled to start in September were canceled by the School Board on Monday night.

In a letter to parents, schools Superintendent Robert Marquis said only 21 children had been signed up as of July 17 and 32 had been expected. Twenty-one was not enough for the program to be self-supporting, he said.

“It was a very tough decision,” School Board Chairman Ron Carvell said by phone Tuesday. “I really wanted (full-day kindergarten), but it would have cost taxpayers money.”

The program was intended to pay for itself by charging $510 a month, with parents who could afford it bearing the extra costs for students who needed financial help.

Voters at the annual school meeting last March amended the warrant article authorizing full-day kindergarten to say “at no cost to taxpayers.”

Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law last week a bill that expands state funding for full-day kindergarten programs by an additional $1,100 per student, starting in 2019, adding to its standard per-student amount of $1,800.

The money will come from the newly legalized keno lottery, and if revenues exceed expectations, there could be more money coming from the state.

Carvell said that next year the board may take another look at expanding kindergarten based on what the state does.

Because Milford’s program was designed to be tuition-based and self-funding, the district wouldn’t have seen any of the additional state funding.

“It really depends on the state’s position and what we can afford,” Carvell said.

Marquis, who strongly supports the idea of full-day kindergarten, said last week that the board tried to find a balance while looking at declining enrollments and already high taxes and decided not to put the additional burden of a full-day program on taxpayers.

“I am sincerely sorry to share this news,” Marquis said in his letter. “It was my hope and the hope of the School Board that this would have been a program that would have truly benefited students and families – and as a result would have been expanded in the following years.”

About 75 percent of New Hampshire communities offer full-day kindergarten, and the Wilton and Lyndeborough elementary schools might join them eventually. They offer half-day kindergarten programs.

Last week, Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Superintendent Bryan Lane told the Monadnock Ledger that full-day kindergarten would be one of the district’s strategic planning priorities and the additional state funding would play into those talks.

Amherst started a full-day program in 2016, with funding coming from cuts in other parts of the school budget, and Mont Vernon Village School’s kindergarten program went from half-day to full-day in 2015.

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