Thu10302014

Schools

Transitional kindergarten faces possible closing

The Los Altos School District's transitional kindergarten program may be among those on the choppingblock as officials face cuts to balance their 2001-2002 budget.

The program at Loyola School, created to ease students who may not be ready for the normal kindergarten curriculum into the system, will likely be recommended for elimination, said Superintendent Marge Gratiot.

"We are proceeding with the assumption that we will not have transitional kindergarten (next year)," said Gratiot, who will recommend cuts to the district's budget review committee. Committee recommendations then go to the board of trustees for approval.

The possible cut does not sit well with parents of the 15 students currently in the program.

"I think it's given (my son) Cole a lot of confidence," said parent Sandra Limbach. "It's also taught him a lot of stuff I don't even remember learning in kindergarten."

She said instructor Jenni Taylor has created an atmosphere that allows students to learn about such subjects as ecology, social awareness and manners. Gratiot said Taylor would likely be moved to a kindergarten class if the district cancels the program.

Gratiot said she doesn't see the class as a top priority, because parents have the option of keeping their children in preschool for an extra year, or holding them back in the traditional kindergarten class. If transitional kindergarten were kept, she said another much-needed class would face the budget ax.

"It's not a reflection of the value of the program," Gratiot said.

However, Limbach and other traditional kindergarten parents said the program should be kept because it fills the middle ground between preschool and traditional kindergarten.

Some parents don't want to pay the costs of another year at preschool. Others worry about putting their children in a traditional kindergarten class before they are ready. Doing so might adversely affect their children's self-esteem, parents said.

Furthermore, "preschool is a play environment," Limbach said. "Transitional kindergarten is more structured and educational."

Two parents of current TK children used the public forum of the March 5 LASD Board of Trustees Meeting to advocate retention of the program.

Janice Palomo said, "The district might save money now cutting the transitional kindergarten; but it will spend that and more for special education, aides, etc., as time goes on."

"What can I do to save the program?" said Beth Hopwood. "It is worth it to me ... parents would pay."

In a letter to the editor, parents Amanda and Denis Brotzel said an extra year of regular kindergarten could hurt these students throughout their primary school years.

"It may mean (teachers) have to increase their class size and possibly have children amongst the class that are not really ready to be there," the Brotzels wrote.

"Of even more concern is that larger classes with perhaps more than 20 children in a classroom will reduce the attention that can be given to each child and therefore the overall quality of education. And, of course, this will have a knock-on effect through the higher grades."

But Gratiot summed up transitional kindergarten this way: "This is truly an extra program - we can educate the children without it."

The district is forced to make cuts because of the significant pay increases it gave teachers last year. Officials are increasing pay a total of 12 percent over this year and next, but Gratiot indicated district teachers had been underpaid.

"Their salaries are comparable to other school districts," as a result of the new contract, Gratiot said.

While the district expects the amount of state money to increase, state funding typically covers only 60 percent of the budget, Gratiot said. The district must handle the remainder. Meanwhile, salaries account for 85 percent of the budget. On top of the salary increase, the district stands to lose $400,000 in lease revenues from tenants at Covington as it moves to reopen the school. The district needs about $3 million to balance the budget for next year, but about $1 million of that can be made up through staffing adjustments, said Randy Kenyon, associate superintendent in charge of business services.

Changes could mean bumping up class sizes at the kindergarten level to 24 students, which would cost the district half of its class-size state funding - from $900 to $450 per child. However, officials said the balance would still be larger than complying with the 20-student maximum under class-size criteria.

Gratiot said the budget review committee would make recommendations for cuts to the board of trustees in April.

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