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ACGC OKs full-time kindergarten amid an operating debt

GROVE CITY -- A mix of proposals to save money in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District also includes a plan to increase the kindergarten program.

ACGC is in statutory operating debt -- having a deficit beyond levels allowed by the state -- and is in the process of cutting the 2006-07 school budget by cutting positions and programs.

But in action Monday, the school board voted unanimously to add all-day, everyday kindergarten in the next school year.

The district currently offers all-day kindergarten every other day.

Going to a full-time kindergarten schedule will mean adding another half-time instructor and will cost the district an additional $26,000, said Superintendent Pamela Kyllingstad.

She said it's believed the investment will pay off by keeping students in the district, rather than losing them to another district through open enrollment.

Elementary Principal John Haas said ACGC is "battling an open enrollment problem" with students on the geographic fringes of the district attending other schools. He said it's hoped full-time kindergarten will entice parents to keep their students at ACGC.

Kyllingstad said if the district can gain just three additional students a year in kindergarten, the program will pay for itself by the time those three students are in third grade.

Haas said he's hoping that five to 10 new students, that would otherwise open-enroll out of ACGC, will instead stay in ACGC because of the full-time kindergarten program. Because kindergarten is not mandatory, there will be allowances made for parents who don't want to send their children to school full-time.

Besides the potential financial benefits to the school district, Haas said full-time kindergarten will also provide academic benefits to students.

Haas said he's very pleased the school board approved the full-time kindergarten program. "It was very forward thinking of them," he said.

Kyllingstad said the all-day kindergarten program is "part of the mix" of financial adjustments the district is proposing to make to bring the budget back in line.

Earlier this month the school board directed the school administration to cut at least $250,000 from the 2006-07 budget. Kyllingstad said a set of proposals that was presented Monday totals $322,874 in savings.

One of the proposals includes moving the fifth- and sixth-graders from the elementary schools in Atwater and Cosmos to the Junior/Senior High School in Grove City. The move will save 1½ elementary positions. Grouping the district's fifth- and sixth-graders in one school will create economic savings and give the students access to better science facilities and allow better use of instructors.

Kyllingstad said there are "good academic reasons to do this. It's not just to save dollars."

She acknowledged that some parents may be concerned about the move.

Other proposals to decrease expenses include reducing the elementary special education and physical education and not replacing a custodian who retired recently. Proposals are still being studied on cutting transportation expenses. Action on the proposed cuts will be taken at the board's Jan. 9 meeting.

The board is also hoping to finalize a two-year contract settlement with teachers. Teachers will be voting Jan. 3-5 on the proposed contract, which includes a 0.8 percent increase above steps and lanes for the first year, for a total increase of 2.44. The second year includes a 1.9 percent increase above steps and lanes for a total increase of 3.35 percent.

The board originally proposed a 0 percent increase the first year and a 1 percent increase the second year -- above steps and lanes.

Teachers had been looking at a 4 percent increase each year, which is the state average, said Kyllingstad. "We hope that the body of teachers will accept it," she said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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