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School board backs away from pre-K program plans

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District received backlash from community members last week after it introduced a pre-kindergarten program at its third preliminary budget hearing. The program was estimated to cost about $250,000 a year, with a one-time $20,000 start-up cost.

After hearing several complaints from the public Tuesday night, and after receiving emails opposing the proposed plan, the Board of Education voted unanimously to drop the pre-K program from its 2018-19 budget.

The program had been proposed for Miller Avenue School and would have created four classes of 18 students each. To accommodate this, one first-grade class would be eliminated; the music room, needed as a pre-K classroom, would move to the faculty room; and the faculty room would relocate to the basement.

Superintendent Gerard Poole said that adding the pre-K program would not affect the budget and the tax levy would still decrease by .5034 percent. Budget economies would be possible, he said, by assigning an existing first-grade teacher to one pre-K classroom and funding the other by eliminating one teaching assistant and decreasing contingent instructional positions.

Nevertheless, residents raised a number of concerns during the public comment portion of Tuesday evening’s meeting, including enrollment changes and fiscal responsibility.

“I don’t understand how the need for a pre-K program has been determined,” said Honore Cavaco of Wading River.

“How many incoming kindergartners in our district have no prior school experience and have been found not ready for the kindergarten experience?”

School board president Robert Rose said that about 90 percent of kindergartners entering the district came in with previous school experience.

Many residents felt the program had been rushed and shoved into the budget unnecessarily — and worried that the budget could be voted down in May on this one issue.

“Registration for this September is ridiculous,” Colette Grosso of Shoreham said. “It’s not that pre-K is not a great idea, it’s that it’s not a great idea now.”

Ms. Grosso also expressed concern that bathrooms for pre-K students would be across the hall, so that whenever a child needed the bathroom, a teacher’s aide would have to leave the classroom to accompany them.

Despite projections that district enrollment will decrease in the next decade, several parents were worried about increasing class sizes.

“Let’s actually have answers before we jump headlong into something,” Dan Losquadro said.

After listening to community comments, Mr. Rose read a statement, with other board members’ support, largely agreeing with the public’s concerns.

“I’m not saying the administration along with our tremendous teaching staff wouldn’t put together a great program, but it does beg the question ‘Are we really prepared?’ and ‘Is this being rushed?’<\!q>” Mr. Rose said.

He also said that Mr. Poole had urged the board to hold off on preschool because it is not a good fit for this year, a sentiment echoed by other board members.

“I support public education and I’m a proponent of a pre-K program for Shoreham Wading River, but I appreciate the feedback,” school board member Erin Hunt said. “It’s our job not to push our own agenda, but to hear what the community is saying. While I support pre-K, I hear a lot of you asking us to wait.”

At the end of the meeting, Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, went over the final portion of the budget, which accounts for 1.19 percent of the total. Curriculum and staff development will increase by about 24 percent, or $67,645, which includes professional development and the new elementary math program, Eureka.

The athletics budget will drop by 6.7 percent, decreasing $15,637 from this year due to one-time equipment purchases. Spending for community programs like adult education and summer programs will also see a decrease of 6.83 percent.

Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole speaks at Tuesday night’s board of education meeting. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

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