Enthusiasm among parents for full-day kindergarten clashed with the school committee's restrained optimism at Monday night's meeting at .
Several parents of young children urged the committee to consider again a program that has failed to garner enough support at least twice before, calling for the option of a longer day to improve the learning environment and ease the burden on working families.
"Please, for the sake of our children, bring a full-day kindergarten program to Braintree," said Julie Canelli, mother of four and an active member of a Facebook group called MAKE BRAINTREE FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN!, which was created recently to gather momentum for a potential program and now has more than 150 followers.
Six years ago, attempted to start a full-day program but was unable to because of the high cost, Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg told the committee and those in attendance. Then, last year, another exploration of the idea ended when an $18,000 state grant fell through and parental interest waned.
On Monday, after an extensive round of comments and questions, the school committee passed a motion to establish a group to study different options for implementation and create a survey to find out what families prefer.
"If there are enough people interested in this, we will do everything we can to offer it in September," Kurzberg said.
The superintendent added that this time he wanted to make sure enough parents would commit to paying a per child fee that might be as high as $4,000 for placement in one of two possible classes to be held at Monatiquot School -- a plan that did not have universal approval.
Greg Quinn, another local parent, said that he could not support the program as proposed because it seemed to0 lean, with practically no administrative support or special activities such as art and physical education.
Committee chair David Cunningham responded, explaining that part of the study group's responsibility would be to consider input from parents on the best way to move forward.
"There is no finished product yet that we're tying to sell you," Cunningham said.
Many of the ideas that parents presented at Monday's meeting were immediately dismissed by Kurzberg as financially unrealistic or unwieldy for staff. Passing a town-wide tax override, for example, was described by both Kurzberg and Mayor Joseph Sullivan as extremely unlikely. Another option, simply extending current kindergarten class hours, would intefere with classroom schedules and push kindergarten into a time of day without administrative support in the buildings, Kuzerberg said, adding that "there are some realities that none of us like."
Jennifer Longobardi created the Facebook group to promote the full-day idea about two weeks ago. During the meeting, she dropped a thick stack of research onto the table set up for public comment, outlining the educational benefits of extended kindergarten and how other Massachusetts communities are offering the program. Only 32 school districts out of 311 do not offer some form of full-day kindergarten, according to committee member Pam Kiley.
"It's more a question of how we can do it," Longobardi said, noting that enthusiasm appeared strong. "They are our kids. We're going to just say 'I'm sorry'?"
Longobardi, who works in marketing and started her social networking campaign to get a "fire lit" under the subject, said she and other parents would even consider forgoing the convenience of drop-off and pick-up -- the largest portion of a potential program's expense after personnel costs -- in order to at least get started with a pilot program.
"It seems to me a shame that it's money that stands in the way," she said.
The committee worked throughout the night to convince parents that it stands behind their goals, if only the financial problem can be overcome. Sullivan warned that last time the district tried full-day kindergarten "it unraveled on us" because parents lost interest when the state grant disappeared and it became evident they would have to pay more.
Still, members said they would take the proposal seriously and hoped to have the results of the parent survey back by January, in time for enrollment.
"We're here because education is the most important thing to us," committee vice-chair Shannon Hume said.