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Merrimack Valley School District to review full-day kindergarten proposal, teacher contract

Voters in the Merrimack Valley School District will get their first look tomorrow night at several big-ticket items that could be on the warrant at this year’s district meeting.

District officials are recommending a move to full-day kindergarten, a contract recently signed with district teachers and a budget for the 2014-15 school year that includes an increase due to pressure from rising insurance costs.

The proposed 2014-15 budget – slightly more than $37 million – is 2 percent higher than the current budget, said budget committee Chairman Troy Cowan of Loudon.

A little more than half of the increase is due to an 8.9 percent increase in the district’s health insurance costs, Cowan said.

The budget also includes a new district-wide math specialist who will work with all the schools to improve math performance, and it increases one part-time special education teacher at Penacook Elementary School to full time, Cowan said.

That budget does not include the potential costs of the teachers’ contract or expanded kindergarten.

The proposed contract is for three years and would add $577,894 to the budget in the first year.

There are no percent increases to salaries in the first two years of the contract; instead, the contract gives some teachers two-step increases in 2014-15 and other teachers two-step increases in 2015-16, to compensate for recent years when they did not receive those increases.

Employees’ share of their health care costs will also increase each year, eventually reaching 10 percent for a single person, 14 percent for a plan covering two people and 20 percent for a plan covering a family.

A task force discussed full-day kindergarten this fall and winter with residents of all towns in the district – Boscawen, Loudon, Penacook, Salisbury and Webster – and recommended in November the board move ahead with a proposal.

“When you take all areas into consideration – children’s development, individual differences, the necessity of involved play for learning, the value of building close relationships and the current content expectations – it was the task force’s finding that Merrimack Valley kindergarten children need longer school days,” the group wrote in its report.

“Judging from research, experience and common sense, getting children off to a good start does make sense – dollars and sense. Full-day kindergarten is a worthwhile investment in moving students toward greater social and academic success.”

The program could continue to run in the existing kindergarten space, though about $7,000 of equipment would be needed, said Assistant Superintendent Chris Barry.

The number of kindergarten teachers, currently 5½, would need to be doubled, which could cost about $333,000, based on the assumption each teacher has a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience, Barry said.

However, the district would save roughly $145,000 from not driving students home in the middle of the day, Barry said, bringing the total impact of the expanded program to $194,310 in the 2014-15 school year budget.

The district first explored full-day kindergarten in the 2008-09 school year. The higher expectations for students under the new Common Core education standards prompted administrators to look at the program again last summer.

The finance committee reviewed and supports the full-day kindergarten proposal but has not reviewed the proposed contract with teachers, Cowan said.

The public hearing on the district warrant is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. tomorrow and will be held at Merrimack Valley High School.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments3

Pre-K and kindergarten are the most important years in a child's development — $194K is a small investment toward a big return.

It is time that the voters of the Merrimack Valley School District wake up and go to the public hearing on the budget, Tuesday January 28, and the big vote on March 6 for the annual meeting(this information comes from the Merrimack Valley School District website). There are about 8,000 voters in the school district and most stay home. There are about between 500 and 600 that go to the annual school meeting and vote. And a large portion of the voters that go to the annual meeting are employees and their families and friends in the school district. The larger portion of voters stay home and complain when the property tax bill goes up each year. Wake up voters, the ball is in your court.

Why does the cost of full day kindergarten need to be passed on to all property owners? Why should we have to pay for kids to nap and have snacks and play? The parents are trying to pass along the cost of their child care to the community. Forget it. In this instance, this tab should be picked up by those parents. Half day kindergarten is enough. Our property taxes are already substantial and a line needs to be drawn. Overall, there are a lot of new costs that heed to be absorbed by the property tax payer. ENOUGH! I support half day kindergarten, and teacher pay raises, but not full day kindergarten.

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