Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


Three community members who serve on the Baker School District's Budget Committee joined school board members Tuesday night to consider a full-day kindergarten program in the context of budget planning for the coming year.

Rusty Munn, Ginger Savage and Rosemary Abell joined the board to hear Doug Dalton, the district's chief financial officer, talk about long-range planning.

Because the state has not provided money to pay for full-day kindergarten, districts will not be required to offer them by 2015, as the board previously believed, Dalton said Tuesday.

Money would come through the state school funding formula, but that would simply be a reallocation of the 0.5 average daily membership (ADM) count for half-time kindergartners to a 1.0 ADM count. School districts receive state funding at a rate of about $6,600 per ADM.

Dalton cautioned the leaders about funding full-day kindergarten to the neglect of other programs.

"I think if you look at kindergarten in a vacuum, you're missing the point," Dalton said. "You don't want to fund whoever comes to the table first or whoever has the best presentation."

Andrew Bryan, board chairman, will appoint a committee to begin looking at options with an eye toward moving to a full-day kindergarten program in the future.

Director Kyle Knight said that while he supports the concept of full-day kindergarten, he would not cut other programs to accommodate it.

"I really don't see more room to cut," he said. "I feel if full-day kindergartens were more important than other programs we offer now, we'd already have them - and we don't. I don't see a path to full-day kindergarten."

Director Kevin Cassidy disagreed.

"I do see a path," he said. "But it's going to take a lot of work."

Employee costs alone for expanding the district's current half-day kindergarten program to a full day would total about $350,000, Dalton said. That would mean cutting other portions of the district's general fund budget of about $18 million. Providing space for the full-day kindergarten programs is another issue the board must consider.

In addition to full-day kindergarten programs, the state also is promoting free public preschools and career and technical training to be offered at the high school level and expanded to include community members, Dalton said.

In the meantime, the district is facing increases to its Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) bill and rising personnel costs. There is also a need to consider replacing counseling and mental health services that have been cut in the past, Dalton said.

Staffing for physical education classes will be required at the elementary level beginning in 2017. One position is funded with grant money this year and next, but that money will not be available in future years.

And in order to improve student performance, the district will consider hiring math and writing coaches, aimed at improving teacher effectiveness, Dalton said.

Tapping the district's $1.2 million ending fund balance to pay for all-day kindergarten would simply drain the account the district has worked hard to build over the past several years, he said.

"That's why we're not over hiring and laying off," he said of the district's strong financial footing.

Munn spoke in support of the value of preschool programs and urged the board to help educate the community on that topic.

"The results are astounding," he said, in terms of determining future success for children who have access to preschool programs.

Savage also urged the board to move to provide all-day kindergarten as soon as possible, citing the benefits her own children received by attending all-day programs.

Munn and Savage are both former school board members.

Long-range planning for the district's future might require seeking community support of a bond measure to help expand and fund programs, Bryan said.

Another option could include beefing up parent-teacher fundraising efforts, he said.

Bryan said today that funding of full-day kindergarten programs could change when the Legislature meets in the coming year.

As planning continues, the board wants to move ahead without being forced to make decisions that could have adverse consequences for the district, he said.

"Our actions now lead toward being prepared for the budget process," he told his fellow board members Tuesday night. "We ought to be prepared if extra money comes from the state."