2013-08-29 / Local & State

SFSB Continues Pre-K Talks

By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Still reeling from the news the state grant funding earmarked for continued operation of its prekindergarten program was axed for this school year, the Southern Fulton School Board and administration continued their discussions last week into what programming can be offered to help rectify the situation.

Superintendent Hervey Hann shared with the board on August 20 that a total of $104,940.83 in district funds would be needed to continue operating the program. One significant change, however, would be that the program would be open to all 4-year-old children in the district and not just those who are developmentally delayed or come from low-income families.

Last year 26 students, ages 3 and 4, were served through the pre-K program, which cost an estimated $113,000 in state funding. The 2012-13 school year marked the fourth year of funding in the five-year grant cycle.

Board President Allen Morton used the word “blindsided” and noted if the potential problem had been discussed during the previous budget preparations, timing would not have been such a big factor.

Board member David Smith told the administration he never wanted to see a situation like this arise in the future. “Let me be clear,” he said. Hann, in turn, admitted fault in not being aware of the five-year grant cycle.

Hann stated offering services to children before and after school remains a possibility, but they remain unsure about the pre-K situation. Elementary Principal Theresa Corle and Hann suggested partnering with other organizations that have the necessary government certification. One such organization, known as Learning Lamp, offers needs assessment, tutoring, grant writing, before-and-after-school programs and SAT prep tutoring. Learning Lamp currently partners with more than two dozen schools in the commonwealth.

Corle stated an organization could be offered a location within the school’s facilities at no cost.

Board member Smith noted even though a program doesn’t have to be all day, it does need to reach the students who have a specific need.

“It’s a win-win for everyone ... It saves us money and gets our students prepared,” the board member said.

Fellow member Eric Barnhart pointed out the district is changing in that working parents are not at home when their children leave for or come home from school. Before and after school assistance for students would be an extra service for students but at no extra cost to the district, he said.

Hann added his hope is to have pre-K funding included in the 2014-15 budget, and in the meantime continue moving forward with getting other programs in place to help throughout the remainder of this year.

Topics such as childcare through the Fulton County Area Vocational-Technical School and early intervention services with Tuscarora Intermediate Unit #11 were also mentioned as possible solutions.

Transportation contractor Dave Smith said he was not in favor of doing away with pre-kindergarten and suggested the board dig into its $300,000 budgetary reserves to fix the issue. Holding a copy of the current budget in his hand, Smith said the district does have money. Furthermore, he deemed this issue an emergency.

“You try to do the best you can,” Smith told the board. “The decision, whether there is grant money or not, should be to fund the program.”

The contractor was informed if the board took $100,000 out of reserves now, the budgetary reserves would have to be reimbursed that amount for 2014- 15. An additional $100,000 would also be needed to operate the pre- K program in 2014-15.

“I view this as an opportunity to learn because this is the type of issue we’re likely to face again,” the contractor said. Let’s anticipate where we may have risks next year.”

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