Full-day kindergarten will be on Milford ballot

MILFORD – The school board voted unanimously Monday night to put full-day kindergarten on a warrant article for the March elections.

The board’s vote came after a slide presentation by teachers and administrators that showed teachers under intense pressure to meet state standards with a half-day program.

“We are trying to get a year’s growth in a half a year’s time,” said Jacques Memorial School Principal Nancy Maguire.

Milford is now among the approximately 25 percent of districts that don’t offer full-day kindergarten, and data provided by the educators shows its first graders falling behind state and national standards.

“Let’s do it right. Let’s do it now,” said Chairman Ron Carvell, after board member Jenn Siegrist suggested a partial program.

Siegrist has been a strong full-day supporter but said she “didn’t have a concept of how far behind” the students are and how much pressure teachers are under.

And board member Len Mannino said the presentation changed his mind about putting kindergarten on the ballot.

“I was absolutely opposed,” he said, but the educators “made a clear and convincing case, with in-depth explanations.”

Responding to concerns that children this age don’t have the stamina for a full-day program, Maguire said, “very few kindergarten children still nap.”

Beth Dunham Gibney, the curriculum coordinator for the Milford elementary schools, said longer days will allow for greater depth of instruction and with more time academics can more easily be worked into play and downtime.

“We could take the kids so much further” in their mastery of skills, she said.

Many of the children have to go to another program for the rest of the day because their parents work, the principal said, and a full-day program would remove those transition periods and cut down on the time helping the children into and out of coats and boots and other routines familiar to parents of 5-year-olds.

Unlike a failed tuition-based program that had been planned for this year and would have had little or no tax impact, this new program would be publicly funded.

The proposal from Schools Superintendent Robert Marquis is estimated to cost $582,500, which would be offset by state revenue from Keno gambling, estimated at $138,600, although there is some confusion over how much aid there will be and when it will be available.

Board member Bob Willette said he voted in favor of the motion because voters should decide, but he will voted no on the ballot question. This year, he said, received more emails about the tax rate than ever before.

“Can we put this on taxpayers’ backs?” he said.

Carvell said the board will work on tightening the budget so that the cost of kindergarten has a minimal impact on taxes.

As of 2015-2016, about 105 New Hampshire public school districts had full-day kindergarten, which is about 75 percent of the total, according to the state Department of Education’s website.

Last month Wilton-Lyndeborough school officials also decided to put full-day kindergarten on the their warant for next year. Amherst and Mont Vernon have had full-day programs for two or three years.

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