Steamboat School Board questions request for support for kindergarten
February 7, 2012
Steamboat Springs — A Steamboat Springs School District request that the Education Fund Board provide $240,630 to support the district's full-day kindergarten program was met mostly with concern Monday night by the School Board.
The district's full-day kindergarten program is currently supported by tuition from parents. The program costs $2,349 per year per student. The state provides funding for half-day kindergarten.
Superintendent Brad Meeks and School Board President Brian Kelly said Monday the Fund Board grant request was made with the intention of ending the tuition system next school year and thus making full-day kindergarten available to parents at no charge.
"For some families, (the tuition) is too expensive, and this funding would level the playing field and make it economically equal," Meeks said.
But School Board member Wayne Lemley said he would not vote to accept a Fund Board grant for Steamboat's full-day kindergarten program if it came at the expense of dollars to support smaller class sizes in the district.
"All of the other grant requests we made this year are important to me, except for the funding for all-day kindergarten," he said.
A list of the district's grant requests can be viewed at http://www.steamboateducationfund.org/grant_requests.php.
Colorado does not fund full-day kindergarten programs, but it does provide funding for half-day kindergarten. The Steamboat Springs School District covers the remaining cost for the full-day program, minus what is provided by parents through tuition. Administrators cited ongoing difficulties in collecting full tuition from full-day kindergarten parents as a reason the Fund Board grant could be a benefit.
"We can have anywhere from six to 15 parents with late payments at a time," Meeks said. "It takes time to make calls or send letters to collect the tuition, and we work with parents as best we can."
The district currently has 139 full-day kindergarten students and 17 half-day students enrolled at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools, according to administrative assistant Deb Ginesta. She said parents can pay the entire full-day tuition before the start of the school year, can pay on a monthly basis or can pay in four quarterly payments of $587.25.
She said nonpayment of tuition continues to be an issue, although it's not as bad as it was in the 2009-10 school year, when the district used a collection agency to recoup $2,969 in unpaid tuition from several families.
Ginesta said Monday that four parents owe past due tuition totaling $1,193.75 from bills dating back to December. She added that tuition was raised this school year because of increased enrollment and the resulting addition of a kindergarten teacher.
School Board member Robin Crossan said it would be difficult to accept Fund Board support for Steamboat's full-day kindergarten program without a guarantee the funding would continue past one year.
"To allow one group of students not to have to pay for it and then in the future have to (bring back the tuition system) I think would be horrendous for the community," Crossan said.
Board members also expressed concern the move could dent enrollment at private kindergarten facilities in the area and boost the district's full day-kindergarten enrollment higher than what the Fund Board could support.
Meeks said he plans to meet this week with representatives from the Fund Board to discuss all of the district's grant requests, which total a little more than $3 million.
"It's part of a two-month-long process where we'll continue to have a lot of enriched discussion about education and programming and meeting the needs of our students," he said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com