Camas weighs kindergarten change

Daily half-days would become alternating full days

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

The Camas School District is considering a change in its kindergarten schedule that would reduce the number of days youngsters are in classrooms but increase the length of the days.

The school board will vote Monday whether to abandon the district’s current half-day, daily kindergarten schedule for a full-day, alternating-day schedule this fall. The change is expected to save the cash-strapped district $108,000 in transportation costs. In the upcoming school year, the district is anticipating a shortfall between $1 million and $1.5 million, said Tanis Knight, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Public meeting

• Who: Camas School Board meeting.

• What: The school board will make a decision on its kindergarten schedule for the 2010-11 school year.

• When: 5:30 p.m. Monday.

• Where: J.D. Zellerbach District Office, Board Room 103, 841 N.E. 22nd Ave.

“Anytime you start looking at saving money, this is one way to save quite a bit,” Knight said. “If they (the school board) make this a priority, to hang onto this (current) schedule, then those cost reductions have to come from other places.”

But many parents and teachers are upset with the proposed change.

Lisa Baird’s son is set to begin kindergarten at Helen Baller this fall. She worries the long breaks between instruction days will make it harder for students to retain information. Baird also believes any schedule change should be based on what’s best for the children, not to fill budget gaps.

“By attempting to solve budget issues involving transportation, we are tampering with what we know works,” she said. “Making a major policy change in the kindergarten schedule based on the costs of busing is a mistake.”

Knight said the switch, which would eliminate the midday bus routes, has been proposed in the past as a cost-saving measure, but the board resisted the change because parents and teachers spoke against it. Officials previously found other areas to make reductions, but now fewer options are available, Knight said.

“When you’ve cut a million each year for the last two years, a lot of the low-hanging fruit is gone,” she said.

If the board approves the plan, Knight expects kindergartners would attend classes two full days a week — such as Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday — and a half-day every other Wednesday.

Last fall, Evergreen Public Schools switched its kindergarten from half-days to alternating full days. By January, though, the district was considering restoring its traditional routine after parent-teacher conferences and early-release days caused an imbalance between the two groups of kindergartners. Parents and teachers complained about behavior problems with students and said the children were confused and frustrated with the on-off schedule.

Despite the problems, Evergreen officials decided to stick with the schedule for the rest of the year and announced earlier this month the district would switch to full-day, everyday kindergarten this fall.

Parents in Camas are urging their officials to take heed.

“I hope the Camas School District will take advantage of this opportunity to learn from someone’s else’s mistake, rather than repeat it ourselves,” parent Catherine Hostetler wrote in a letter to the school board.

Knight said officials would do everything they could to avoid similar scheduling problems. Because Camas elementary schools already have early release every Wednesday, whereas Evergreen schools don’t, some confusion should be eliminated, she said. Officials are also confident they could make the plan work because Ridgefield schools successfully implemented a similar schedule years ago, Knight said.

If the district had the room, and could afford the added cost, Knight said it would love to implement full-day, everyday kindergarten. But because that’s not possible now, Camas officials plan to offer parents other options. Regardless of the board decision Monday, the district is looking to offer tuition-based full-day kindergarten this fall. The program could be open to about 50 students. The district also offers a half-day child care program that has room to expand at the district office, Knight said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.