Mandate throws wrench into all-day kindergarten
District may have to ax program if it's not allowed to charge
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 5:53 PM EST
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A state mandate requiring all-day kindergarten next year may force Worthington schools to suspend all-day kindergarten program in the fall.

Worthington school board members mulled over the kindergarten dilemma at a board meeting Monday, Jan. 10, at the Worthington Education Center.

The first order of business was to elect a new board president. Board members cast unanimous votes for Marc Schare as president and Jennifer Best as vice president.

Board members could not reach a similar consensus over all-day kindergarten.

Superintendent Melissa Conrath recommended school board members apply for a waiver to opt out of the state-mandated program, even though the district has had all-day kindergarten, called K-Plus, in place for several years.

"We have a decision to make," Conrath said. "Although 80 percent of our students are participating in the all-day program, the current law will not allow us to charge for the program next school year."

Not offering the program is not an option for board member David Bressman.

"I don't think I could ever support not having that program," he said. "I think I would look at eliminating some other program with less than 80 percent participation."

Conrath said offering the program free of charge, as the law mandates, would add at least $1 million in expenses, causing a number of concerns in a tight school budget.

"Under the current law, we can apply for a waiver for next school year to opt out of offering the program," she said. "Otherwise, we would have to offer the program free of charge and we would be committed to adding at least $1 million to our general fund expenses."

The state waiver allows school districts to wait another year before offering the program.

Conrath said she does not know of a district in Ohio that offers a tuition-free all-day kindergarten.

"Our plan is to prepare parents by telling them if we cannot charge tuition next school year, we may not offer the program," she said.

Conrath said school leaders have been discussing the dilemma with state legislators and some of the legislators plan to introduce a bill to overturn the mandate.

"We don't need to kill the mandate, but need to be allowed to charge what the program costs," Schare said. "The thing to ask for is to restore the ability to charge for the program."

"We're aggressively pursuing this issue with our legislators," Conrath said.

"I'm confident we can get on top of this," she said. "Our interest is to charge a fee next year; otherwise, we have the option of not offering the program. I hope parents will also talk to legislators because we need an answer on this problem."

Making an impact

Also at this week's meeting, board members gave Impact Awards to Tim Dove, social studies teacher at Phoenix Middle School, for being named 2011 Ohio Teacher of the Year; and to Evening Street Elementary School reading specialist Kellie Ehlers, who was selected as one of the four finalists for the same award.

Dove was selected from more than 1,000 nominated teachers statewide.

"I've always been very proud to be a Worthington teacher and public school teacher," Dove said.

Evening Street Principal Mary Rykowski wrote in a nomination letter about Ehlers: "To be honest, my first year as principal at Evening Street, I dreaded walking down the hallway with Kellie during curriculum nights.

"She is a like a rock star in this community," Rykowski wrote. "Parents, current and former students stop for hugs and conversation. At the time, I wondered how she had such magical appeal. Now, after working as her colleague for three years, I know."

Ehlers said to board members, "It's not me -- it is this district.

"I have ideas and everyone helps me," she said. "Thank you so much -- my gosh, and I didn't even win."