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Falmouth plans 1st step toward all-day kindergarten, leaving day-care providers wary

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Falmouth plans 1st step toward all-day kindergarten, leaving day-care providers wary

FALMOUTH — Starting this fall, Lunt School will offer day care to kindergarten students during school hours when their classes are not meeting.

But the change, designed to please parents, is creating concerns for some operators of day-care businesses.

The school is adjusting its schedule so half the students will be in kindergarten all day Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesday morning, while the other half will be in class Wednesday afternoon, Thursdays and Fridays.

The rest of the time, parents will be able to pay for their children to attend the kindergarten extension program. Technically, it will not be an all-day kindergarten program, but a day care that will extend the present kindergarten curriculum.

"This is really a response to parents saying, 'I wish you had another option,'" Principal John Flaherty said.

The school has not been able to offer this kind of program until now because it has not had the space. However, with the elimination of a second-grade classroom last year and a first-grade classroom on the budget chopping block this year, the school has the space it needs.

"We want the program to be self-sufficient. If we ended up with only five people signed up, we couldn't do it," Flaherty said.

For the first year, the program will not offer before and after care, running only during normal school hours. Kindergartners could then be picked up by parents, or could ride the bus to a drop-off point, at home or at a day-care center.

Several weeks ago, the school advertised the two positions it would need to run the program and Flaherty said he is reviewing the more than 100 applications received for a director of the program and for a support ed-tech position. The positions will be paid out of the fees the program will charge parents to participate.

"This is really a step toward all-day kindergarten," he said.

The change will come as the town is building a new elementary school, which will eliminate the space problem and make all-day kindergarten much more feasible. Depending on the popularity of the program, Flaherty said, they may consider offering before and after care, and preschool, too.

While parents might be calling for the extended programs, local day-care centers that already offer these kinds of services are wondering what this will mean for them.

"We've really tried to back the town with what our program will offer. We've changed our program to accommodate them and now they're going to be our direct competitors," said Jana Bagshaw, who owns Little Hands Day Care with her husband, John.

Bagshaw said her kindergarten teacher calls the school regularly to make sure the programs are aligned, and that every time the school changes its schedule, they must adjust theirs, too.

"Around 80 percent of our children are from Falmouth," she said. "It will affect us, certainly."

Flaherty said the program will open with 30 spaces, 15 for each class, and that he has not yet set the rate the school will charge.

"Our intent is to make it reasonable and affordable, but not so much so that it competes with the local day cares," he said. "This is just another option for parents."

Bagshaw said she is not as worried about the first year as she is about the following year, once the new school is finished.

"What really worries us the most is if they offer a preschool program. That will really hurt our business," she said. "We're a little frustrated that our taxpayer money will be funneled into a program that will be our biggest competitor."

Little Hands Day Care currently has around 30 families in its kindergarten and afterschool programs and charges $140 per week for the kindergarten day care that runs opposite the school's schedule.

The Little Red Caboose Child Development Center, also in Falmouth, has a burgeoning preschool program, too.

"We're pretty full. The economy has not had a big impact on us," said owner Lisa Lalumiere. However, she said she is worried that if the school begins offering similar programs, her business will struggle.

"It will be interesting to see how many people participate. Right now, I don't think this will affect us. Working parents are looking for all-day care. But putting a nursery school in next year, that will really hurt us," she said.

Flaherty said the state has been pushing the school to offer preschool programs for all students. He said if the school were to offer before and after care or preschool in the future, it would likely contract it out to a privately owned company that would utilize the school's space, but run independently of the school.

"We want to be fair, but not damaging to local businesses," he said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net