Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And now for something completely different...

Usually, these posts are about family trips, adventures, accomplishments. This one's not like that.

The Ferndale School District, like so many in Washington State and the country, is in financial distress. They need to cut $1.55 million from the budget for next year.

Washington State funds part-time (90 days) kindergarten, and full-time for a handful of schools in the state that are "Title 1" (low income). There is one of those schools in the district, but not the one the boys go to. For all the other schools in the district, Ferndale decided two years ago to foot the ~$280,000 extra annually to provide full-time kindergarten. Now the economy went to hell in a handbasket, and they don't have that money.

So their idea? Originally, it was to cut one or two elementary school counselors to provide full-day in two more schools (in addition to the Title 1 school). Before you think "What the heck are counselors doing in elementary school?," let me tell you that they do a very important job making sure that children that are in bad family/abuse/poverty conditions get the resources they need. I don't favor cutting them.

But then some parents approached them and said "No! We all want full-time kindergarten! Can't we have the option to pay for it?" So they decided to give that option: no cost for free-lunch children, $150/month for reduced price lunch children, and (wait for it) $325/month for children that do not qualify for the subsidies. Who qualifies? A family of four making $40,794 or more per year would not qualify. Apparently if you make that kind of money, you can afford it.

Except they didn't ask those families. Last night at the school board's budget meeting, there were probably about 15 parents, three kindergarten teachers, and one principal. All but one of the parents--friends and peers of our family--said they could not afford that. All said they wanted equal opportunities for the children, not discrimination to the middle class. None of these parents took this decision lightly--we all felt that by checking the box "my child will attend part-time," we were checking a box that also said, "I knowingly am choosing the option that will put my child at a disadvantage." Ironic that we felt that by making a choice to stay home with our children and be a single income family (which was the case with most of the commenting parents last night), we got into a situation where they would receive 50% of the education of most of their peers (the acting superintendent said that similar programs in other districts have about an 80% participation in full-time kindergarten, via subsidized and paying families).

So after the comments, the board really did seem to hear that the pay option was not welcome in Ferndale, and was viewed as inequality. They decided to (yet again) look at the budget and try to find a different way that was equitable to all--hopefully, but possibly not, full-time kindergarten. The next working meeting is Wednesday, June 24th from 4:30 to 6:30. The public can attend, I believe, but not make comments. A public comment session is scheduled for July 8 at 6:30. If that meeting does not happen, you can email the board with comments. There was some discussion on whether it was tentative or not, but I can't remember; it was about 10:00pm by then. And the new meeting for adopting the budget is July 13th (it was going to be June 24th).

So there you have it. While my child that will be in kindergarten next year is totally ready, my soon-to-be third grader is not so ready for school today (he needs to leave in 25 minutes). Gotta get moving!!!


Kim C said...

What a rigamarole. Glad they are considering other options. This fiscal/financial crisis is just too much. Well, on a good note, at least we don't live in CA. Heard a sad sad public education story on NPR this AM...

A and C said...

I was so grateful to be at the meeting last night and had my voice heard. I really felt like they listened and heard. And if they want to fund only 1 full time class at each school, at least make it a lottery so that all the kids have a equal opportunity to get into it. It is definitely a tough one and I am so glad that I don't have to make those decisions! Great comments by you, too.