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All-day kindergarten plan gets mixed reviews

April 03, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Saying the county doesn't have the money to pay the $10 million price tag, some Washington County Commissioners say they think the state has handed down an unrealistic task of providing full-day kindergarten in all county elementary schools by 2007.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Wednesday the county might need a two-year extension of the deadline.

Other commissioners questioned the importance of the statewide mandate, saying they weren't convinced full-day kindergarten would be an educational benefit for all children.

Commissioner John C. Munson, who said in a phone interview Tuesday that education ranked third among the county's top three priorities - behind the county's sheriff's and roads departments - said he thought kindergarten should be done away with altogether.

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"All it is is a full-time baby-sitting service," Munson said. "You're baby-sitting so the parents can go to work."

Munson said he doesn't believe in pre-kindergarten or full-day kindergarten because children that young belong at home.

"Keep them home and enjoy them - not kick them out when they're 4 years old," Munson said.

The Washington County Board of Education plans to phase in full-day kindergarten at a few schools each year. Providing the classes in all of the county's elementary schools will require about 40 new teachers and the construction of several classrooms, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Wednesday.

Morgan said that while she's a firm believer in full-day kindergarten, the state should extend the deadline if counties don't have enough money to "do it right."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he thinks the state should follow the federal No Child Left Behind act and offer full-day kindergarten only in those schools with the neediest children.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the county would not be able to afford full-day kindergarten without financial help from the state.

"I think we need to be realistic in the approach," Snook said. "If they're requiring full-day kindergarten and they're not putting any money into it, then no, the county isn't going to be able to afford that."

Nipps said an additional two years to implement the mandate would give the commissioners "breathing room." That way, the county could put off paying for full-day kindergarten in fiscal years 2004 and 2005 while it recovers from tight budgets and a sagging economy, she said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he didn't think extending the deadline would help the county.

"My point is the state shouldn't mandate anything unless they come up with the funding," Kercheval said. "Extending the deadline wouldn't solve anything."

He said there were pros and cons to the significance of all-day kindergarten. Two of its merits are that it helps parents with child care while preparing children for the rest of their school years, he said.

Morgan and Nipps discounted Munson's claims that kindergarten is a baby-sitting service, and suggested that he observe what goes on in a kindergarten classroom.

Morgan said kindergarten classes in Washington County focus on academics and that when students leave they are well prepared for first grade.

"Mr. Munson really needs to spend some time in kindergarten," Morgan said.

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