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Chichester voters okay $48,000 for full-day kindergarten

  • Attendees vote by secret ballot during Saturday’s Chichester School District annual meeting at Chichester Central School on Saturday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ Monitor staff

  • Chichester resident and Pittsfield teacher Kali Mara talks about the role of teacher aides in classrooms during Saturday's Chichester School District annual meeting at Chichester Central School on March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Voters weigh in at the Chichester School District annual meeting at Chichester Central School on Saturday morning. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • The Chichester School District annual meeting took place at Chichester Central School on Saturday morning, March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The Chichester School District annual meeting took place at Chichester Central School on Saturday morning, March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • School board member Benjamin Brown gives a presentation during Saturday's Chichester School District annual meeting at Chichester Central School on March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The Chichester School District annual meeting took place at Chichester Central School on Saturday morning, March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The Chichester School District annual meeting took place at Chichester Central School on Saturday morning, March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Principal Brian Beaverstock (left) shakes hands with Mike Currid after Currid presented a $5000 check from his company, Matrix Business Concepts, for a new slide at the school before the start of Saturday's Chichester School District annual meeting at Chichester Central School on March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Chichester Central School will offer full-day kindergarten next year.

Residents voted 71-34 by secret ballot at the Chichester School District’s annual meeting on Saturday morning to allow the school to spend an extra $48,235 to expand its half-day program to a full-day program.

Officials said the extra funds would pay for a full-time teacher’s aide. The district currently has a full-time kindergarten teaching just one half-day session, and board members said they expected to be able to extend programming to a full-day by simply adding an aide, and not a second teacher.

In a worst-case, but highly unlikely scenario, school board member Ben Brown, said the school could always reassign a teacher from the upper grades to kindergarten if enrollment mushroomed in kindergarten and a second teacher was necessary. The aide would then be split between both kindergarten classrooms.

Alongside the town report and warrants, voters were given pamphlets summarizing research about the benefits of full-day kindergarten and a handout showing the spread of such programs across the state when they arrived in the school gym.

“A whole-day program is more than just twice the half-day program in my mind. It’s really educating the entire, the whole child,” Chichester Central School principal Brian Beaverstock said.

He said that kindergarten was a no-brainer from an educator’s perspective. Full-day kindergarten allowed children to access a much greater range of programming, more opportunity for socialization, and provided the opportunity for early interventions.

“I’m not against full-time kindergarten, I think it’s a wonderful idea. I just don’t think it’s this year,” Donna Chagnon, a budget advisory board member, said during public comment.

Marilyn Salagaj, a teacher at Concord High who told the crowd she had recently moved to Chichester, said full-day kindergarten was a major variable on the real-estate market.

“When you’re out looking for a nice neighborhood, one thing that families are looking for is full-day kindergarten. I know people recently who have purchased in nearby towns because we do not have full-day kindergarten,” she said.

Also by secret ballot, a five-year contract for teachers was approved 75-32. The contract includes 1.5 percent salary bumps each year. Some, like resident Fred Chagnon, worried that a five-year deal could imprudent.

“We have no idea what’s coming in the future,” he said.

But former board member Paul Twomey said that it was precisely because the district didn’t know what the future would bring that voters should approve the contract. Wages and inflation won’t stay stagnant the way they have been forever, he warned.

“You want to lock in expectations about wages and inflation when they’re low if you’re on the management side, because, as Fred Chagnon said, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

In the ’90s, the board Twomey sat on approved a long-term contract while inflation and wages were relatively low. The gambit paid off, Twomey said.

“The other towns paid through the nose for not having that security,” he said.

The district’s proposed operating budget of $6,224,776 also passed, though with no discussion from voters. Residents approved the measure 95-7 in a floor vote.

The budget includes cutting one classroom teacher. Brown told voters the school board had tried to reduce the district’s headcount by one last year to match shrinking enrollment, but was overturned by voters.

Enrollment has continued to shrink, Brown said, but the school board had a new plan for reducing the teaching staff – instead of a layoff, they offered teachers an incentive to retire early. One teacher accepted, Brown said, and with the difference between that teacher’s salary and the salary of the teacher the district would have laid off, the district will save an additional $6,000 compared to their original plan.

“So even though we’re giving the teacher that’s retiring the retirement benefit, plus an additional $5,000, the difference in salary ends up saving the school district money,” he said.

With the contract, full-day kindergarten, and budget approved, school district officials estimate the local education tax rate next year will be $17.25.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)