Cumberland-North Yarmouth school board approves pre-kindergarten

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CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors voted 6-2 Monday to launch a pre-kindergarten program.

The panel also approved hiring an architect to provide design services for the district’s planned performing arts center.

Superintendent Jeff Porter, who has recommended implementing pre-K in fall 2018, must still apply to the state Department of Education for program approval – a review process that can take several months.

At its outset, the program will likely include 16 children due to enter kindergarten the following year. Although there are about 150 children who would be enrolled in pre-K district-wide at this point, the program would be geared toward those most in need.

Screenings will be conducted before students are admitted. The Cumberland-North Yarmouth district will work in concert with Child Development Services, which has special education seats in private and public pre-K programs.

The program would run all day, including play and nap times for the 4-year-old students. There would be no fee.

Pre-K could cost the district about $130,000 the first year – including $60,000 for a teacher and $30,000 for an educational technician and benefits for both – as well as the cost of playground equipment, food services, furniture, supplies, equipment and books, and curriculum and testing tools.

The expense would be about $100,000-$110,000 annually from the second year onward, Porter told the School Board. Some costs could be offset by state subsidy, and Child Development Services might cover some staff costs.

SAD 51 learned recently from the state Department of Education that, based on today’s Essential Programs and Services state funding formula – always subject to change – the district would be allocated about $209,000 in subsidies, Porter said.

“This is just an estimate; this is just an approximation,” he noted. “This is the best guess that we can figure when running it through the current EPS formula.”

That increase would be due in part to the district adding 16 students, whose subsidies would be weighted due to their classification as early childhood education pupils.

In addition, “The state provides targeted funds … for specialized programs,” Porter said. “Pre-kindergarten qualifies as a qualified program right now in the state of Maine.”

The allocation would exceed the expenditures that SAD 51 would be putting into the program, the superintendent noted.

One key issue the district faces is where to place a pre-K program. The Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School is one possibility, but space constraints have been an issue as enrollment has risen, despite a recent reconfiguration of space there.

A classroom would be displaced if pre-K was located at Wilson, necessitating a portable classroom. That could cost $15,000 a year, as well as a one-time sewer and water connection fee of $5,000.

Greely High School is another option on the table.

“I can believe that we can, if we’re creative, accommodate a pre-kindergarten program in this district for 16 students,” Porter said.

Vickie Bell, who voted with fellow School Board member Kevin Desmond against launching the program, said while she thought such an initiative would “definitely (be) an asset” to the district, “I feel like we are stretched so thin. We have so many things going on; we have been so successful with our strategic plan.”

“I would really like us to look at what we have going on now, stop, assess that, and let’s do this right,” Bell said, adding she did not think the district was getting  much pressure from parents to start pre-K. “I just at this point would have a hard time allocating … resources in time and money to pre-K when we have so many other things that we’ve already committed to earlier.”

Board member John Simpson offered a different opinion. Noting that he has paid $10,000 a year in preschool tuition, a pre-K program would be “a huge benefit to parents,” he said. “… We’re potentially saving parents a lot of money.”

Meanwhile, SAD 51 is looking into implementing a “Jump Start” program, which would run a few weeks the summer before a child begins kindergarten.

PAC architect

The School Board also unanimously approved a $654,000 contract with Stephen Blatt Architects for design services on the performing arts center. The contract is being funded through a $9.5 million bond that voters approved last November. Since the board had already approved up to $75,000 – taken from the district’s capital reserve account – for Blatt’s concept design work, that amount will be credited back to the district.

The 26,000-square-foot center will be built at the rear of Greely High, on a leveled-off area between the 303 Main St. building and the outdoor track. Ground could be broken in September, with the building completed by November 2018.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.