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Full-Day Kindergarten Could See More Space for Fall 2013

Full-day kindergarten was part of a larger space needs discussion by Braintree School Committee members Monday night.

Less than a week after more than 220 students applied for 60 full-day kindergarten spots at Braintree High School, department officials now say that the program could offer additional seats for next fall.

Based on projected elementary enrollment, Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg said it is "conceivable" that one classroom each be opened at Hollis and Morrison schools.

Shifting some students slated for BHS to those schools could then open space for more Liberty students at the high school and in turn reduce fifth grade class sizes at Liberty, which are projected to reach 25 and 26 students.

Parents responded to this proposal at Monday night's School Committee meeting with some skepticism, though, questioning the fairness of adding spots for some schools while others have dozens on the waiting list.

The full-day kindergarten lottery held last Wednesday provided space for 60 students in three classrooms at Braintree High School – 10 from each of the town's elementary schools.

A total of 226 students entered the lottery, with Liberty (50) and Morrison (49) leading the number of entrants. Following were Flaherty and Hollis with 36 each, Highlands with 32 and Ross with 23. Annual tuition for the program is $3,000, or $1,500 for those who qualify for free or reduced lunch, and no transportation is provided.

Based on those parameters, committee member Pam Kiley said it would make sense for the department to re-open Monatiquot School as a full-day kindergarten center. That would give every family who is currently seeking a spot and is willing to forgo transportation an opportunity to join the program, she said.

However, the start-up and operating costs would be a large hit to the school budget, Dr. Kurzberg argued. He and other committee members said they are more inclined to add permanent additions on Braintree's six elementary schools, freeing up space more generally and for full-day kindergarten. The committee voted Monday to study space proposals more in-depth over the next few weeks.

Kiley disputed the superintendent's cost model for Monatiquot, saying that the committee should "sharpen its pencils" and trim the estimate.

Morrison parent Ellen Stenmon said that she supports the proposal to add 24 modular classrooms, as it would create additional space by next year. But short of that, she asked why the school department would create inequality among students by not weighting each the same in the lottery rather than selecting the same number from every school even though some schools had far more students enter. 

"Success is a function of opportunity," Stenmon said, "and you're not giving the kids the same opportunity."

Mark Moore suggested that the town look at a property tax override or introducing the meals tax to pay for expansion. "I would like to see a more long-term approach," he said.

Rere Dawley said she and her husband both work two jobs, but that she would be willing to work even more to pay for full-day kindergarten if it was necessary. She suggested the committee consider raising the tuition to help pay for expanded offerings. Dawley has two children now in the integrated preschool program.

"I'll send them wherever they have to go," she said.

Braintree should try to offer at least six full-day classrooms next year as it does this year, Mayor Joseph Sullivan said. In addition to three classrooms at BHS, the full-day program this year includes classrooms at Flaherty, Hollis and Morrison

"Everything is on the table," Chair Shannon Hume said. "Nothing is being taken off."

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