CAPE ELIZABETH — Parents lashed out at school administrators at a meeting of the Pond Cove Parents Association Wednesday, continuing the debate over a proposed full-day kindergarten pilot program at the school.
The proposal, included in the $22.5 million fiscal 2014 school budget that goes to voters next week, has drawn the ire of parents who say it’s unfair to provide full-day kindergarten to only some students, and that it would create imbalances in the educational development of half-day and full-day students.
But administrators countered that the plan is a necessary step toward full-day kindergarten for all students, which they say is the goal.
School Board Vice Chairman Michael Moore said the program is a good way to ease into full-day kindergarten, and to measure public support.
“Full-day kindergarten would require a significant investment and would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Moore said. “Hopefully this will put us in a position to see if the community supports full-day K.”
Emotions ran high at the meeting Wednesday morning at the Community Center. With little regard for raised hands, parents berated Moore and Superintendent Meredith Nadeau for what they described as a lack of communication about the program, and criticized the perceived “fast-tracking” of the initiative.
But Nadeau defended the program and its development, citing pilot programs in other states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“This isn’t something that hasn’t had thought put into it,” she said.
In an interview following the meeting, Nadeau said she understands parents’ concerns and appreciated the dialogue. But she bristled at the notion that the administration hadn’t been communicating about the development of the pilot.
“I think as the budget process moved forward, it was communicated,” she said. “It was on the agenda, it was discussed at a subcommittee School Board meeting. There have been communication imperfections, but communication is never perfect; it’s something we all work at all the time.”
Some parents have said they are so strongly opposed to the program, they will vote against the entire budget.
“What this comes down to for me is equal opportunity for all children, especially in public education,” Sarah Closson, the mother of a soon-to-be kindergarten student, said following the meeting. “If it means voting down the budget, that’s what I’ll do.”
Moore appealed to the parents not to oppose the entire budget based on their opposition to the kindergarten program, which will require no additional staff or space. He said rejecting the budget would only cost the taxpayers the expense of creating and approving a new one.
Based on an expectation of about 100 kindergarten students next year, the program would create two classes in which 36 students would attend kindergarten all day, while four other classes, about 64 students, would continue to attend for half days. The curriculum would be the same for both models, but would be adjusted to fit a full-day schedule.
The school budget referendum is Tuesday, May 14. Polls are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at Cape Elizabeth High School. If the budget is approved, full-day kindergarten students will be selected by lottery on May 17.