Cumberland-North Yarmouth schools could launch pre-K in 2018

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CUMBERLAND — Pre-kindergarten classes in School Administrative District 51 could begin in 2018, after being delayed a year.

Superintendent of Schools Jeff Porter recommended the start to the SAD 51 Board of Directors earlier this month. The panel could vote on the matter Feb. 6.

While some board members said they want to see the program begin this fall, much work is required in advance, including filing an application with the state – a review process that can run several months, Porter said in an interview Jan. 12.

“Pre-K has a lot of infrastructure needs, and we’re not exactly sure where the location will be,” he explained, noting that options have included Greely High School and Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School, a portable classroom on the SAD 51 campus, or another building in town.

The program at its outset would probably include 16 children who are due to enter kindergarten the following year. Although there are about 150 possible pre-K children in the district at this point, the program would be geared toward youth who are most in need.

“There are a lot of providers in the community who do a great job,” some of whom sat on the ad-hoc committee that has investigated launching pre-K in the district, Porter said. “We all acknowledged that there is a group of kids that we could probably serve in this way, but there’s a whole bunch of kids that are doing great in the programs they’ve got.”

“I don’t think this is a community where we need to replace pre-K programming; we just need to enhance it a little bit for kids that need it more,” Porter added.

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, Porter said.

“We’ll probably look at demographics like economic disadvantage, if there are families that can’t afford … quality pre-K,” the superintendent said. “We would look at those students, and then we would have a lottery for the rest of the seats.”

The program would run a full day, with play and nap times included for the 4-year-old participants. There would be no fee.

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

Some costs could be offset by state subsidy, and Child Development Services might cover some staff costs, Porter said.

With student enrollment rising at the Wilson school, space constraints have been an issue. Although space was recently reconfigured there, “we’re getting to be out of space in that building,” Porter explained.

A classroom would be displaced if pre-K is held 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.

“I don’t think anybody wants a portable on our property,” Porter said. “Especially if it’s adding a program and then adding a portable. It doesn’t feel right.”

SAD 51’s facilities plan for the next decade includes a look at the school – whether it should be expanded, renovated, or both.

Regardless of whether the pre-K program commences, SAD 51 is also looking into implementing a “Jump Start” program, which would run a few weeks the summer before a child begins kindergarten.

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.