Pre-K Pushes Forward

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pre-kST. JOHNSBURY - Universal Pre-Kindergarten won't be mandated in schools until July 1st of 2016, but the state is giving schools the option of implementing it now.

$7.3 million of federal grant money has been awarded to Vermont to help fund the program throughout the state, but state officials delayed the mandated implementation because program governance will not be finalized until after town meeting day in March.

The St. Johnsbury School, however, made the decision at a special meeting last night to implement Universal Pre-K on July 1st of 2015. Saint Johnsbury School Superintendent Ranny Bledsoe believes the school is ready for the program.

Bledsoe said, "We have a strong collaborative in our community for early education. I think we're unusual in that day-care centers and schools don't sit down together all throughout the state the way they have been here."

The school board voted four-to-one in favor of starting next year, but board member Bruce Corrette was in opposition. He said they passed a law, but the state does not know what they are doing, and will not know until June of 2015.

Many in attendance of last nights meeting were ready to move forward with the program, including Judy Pransky of Cherry Street Child Care, which is one organization that participates in the St. Johnsbury Early Education Collaborative. Pransky sees the need to implement sooner rather than later because Pre-K reduces the number of children entering school when they are not prepared and it reduces the need for special education.

Bledsoe said, "Our biggest behavioral issues are in K through 2, so again it's kids who come in and just are not ready to be in a structured environment six hours a day--they can't handle it."

The program will give children a chance to get used to spending time in a classroom as the program mandates children to have 10 hours of class-time weekly, for 35 weeks.

Bledsoe says there are currently 55 children enrolled, with the school having capacity for 60. She says if they see the need to make more slots available, they will address that problem when they come to it.

Universal Pre-K is available to three and four year old children, and five-year-olds born after September 2nd. Enrollment is first come, first serve for residents.

The program costs $3,000 per student, but the school will pay for any student that is a St. Johnsbury Resident. Residents from out of town may attend if room exists, but their tuition must be covered by their hometown. 

School business manager Kathy Ducharme said Pre-K will cost roughly $175,000 this and it is already included in the school budget. Ducharme said that it will make the school budget slightly higher, but it will be offset by state funding. 

The school budget for 2015 would rise from $15,614,023 to $15,854,023, but Bledsoe says it will not raise the tax rate, and could even lower it.

There will be six local child care centers and two home-based daycares that plan to provide Pre-K to St. Johnsbury Residents. Centers include ABC & LOL Child Care Center, Cherry Street Playcare, Head Start, Kids of the Kingdom Learning Center and Pre School, Little Dipper Doodle Children's Center, and New Beginnings. The home-based providers are Theresa Stevens and Colby Clagg. 

Parents are responsible for finding and enrolling their child in a center or home-based daycare that has availability, but Bledsoe says the school will do it's best to help direct parents.

In Pranky's final statements to the board last night she said, "We believe that proceeding with Universal Pre-K this year will strengthen our image as a model community with a strong commitment to our children and their families."