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Merrimack voters to decide on full-day kindergarten

Union Leader Correspondent

February 11. 2018 11:56PM

MERRIMACK — Voters will have the opportunity to decide at the polls in April whether full-day kindergarten should be implemented within the local school district.

The school board voted unanimously to place a warrant article on the ballot seeking $878,450 to provide full-day kindergarten at all three elementary schools.

Currently, kindergarten teachers in Merrimack provide 440 hours of instructional time per year. Under the full-day program, that number would jump to 920 hours of instruction.

The costs associated with implementing the all-day program include $808,901 for salaries and benefits, which is a recurring cost each year, as well as a one-time cost of $69,000 for equipping classrooms with desks and other necessary items, said school officials.

“The fact that it is tuition free is an important ethical point,” said Naomi Shoenfeld, school board member.

Currently, parents who want to send their children to private, all-day kindergarten have the option of paying for that, said Shoenfeld. Now, if voters support the full-day kindergarten program proposed by the district, all parents — regardless of their financial situation — will have access to extended kindergarten, she said.

Michael Thompson, school board member, said he realizes that there is a cost to the taxpayer in order to implement the program. Still, he said the initiative will result in well-educated students and adults.

Furthermore, school officials stressed that the new Keno program will enable the district to offer full-day kindergarten and receive $1,100 each year for every kindergarten student.

“That is a $275,000 offset to the $808,000 recurring (costs),” said Shannon Barnes, school board chairman. She said that if the district charged tuition for all-day kindergarten, that $1,100 per pupil would not be available.

Superintendent Marge Chiafery agreed, saying this is an ideal time to explore the full-day option. In addition to the $1,100 per pupil, the district is also receiving funding for the existing half-day program, meaning it will ultimately receive $2,900 per kindergarten student per year if the full-day program is approved by voters.

Currently, the local kindergarten teachers are using instructional programs designed for full-day classes, but are retrofitting the instructional time into a 2.5 hour period; half-day kindergarten has been offered by the local school district since 2005.

Rachel Ricker of Merrill Road said she is still on the fence about the full-day kindergarten proposal, but is pleased the school board voted to place it on the ballot. She questioned whether school officials considered offering all-day kindergarten but charging students tuition, a practice now in place at the Bedford School District. This would remove the burden from taxpayers, said Ricker.

Chiafery said that if they charged tuition the district would not receive the Keno funding now available.

Education Merrimack

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