Meridian Times staff writer
The Haslett public school district projects a $700,000 deficit for the upcoming school year. This is due to the increase in pensions and the possibility of extending kindergarten from a half day to a full day.
Sherren Jones, assistant superintendent, sees both positive and negative outcomes of the extension.
“Parents are very excited because it eliminates day-care responsibilities and teachers will have fewer students to attend,” said Jones. “On the other hand, I think a full day is a long time for 4- and 5-year-olds. They will be tired and I’m not sure they necessarily need a full day of schooling.”
From a fiscal perspective, Jones believes the extension is vital. The district predicts the cost to be $500,00 to accommodate more equipment and hire more teachers. If the district does not implement all-day kindergarten, it will lose $700,000 from the state.
“If it were my decision, I would mandate a half-day 4-year-old program and a half-day 5-year-old program. I don’t think that a full day of kindergarten will improve student achievement, which is ultimately the goal,” said Jones.
The district is also looking toward analyzing standardized test scores.
“A new focus from the state is student achievement. They will give us up to $100 for every student who performs well on the tests,” said Steve Cook, director of finance for the district. “Because the district has about 2,700 students, we could receive up to an additional $27,000 from the state.”
The district plans to evaluate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
“I’m concerned about how it could affect the teachers’ teaching techniques. I worry that it will give the teachers less of an opportunity to teach their own ways,” said Rob Mowid, the father of four in the district.
Some parents have a different apprehension.
“My only concern is that there would be too much emphasis on the test as opposed to their curriculum. I would want for my kids to learn the general knowledge of the course, not necessarily everything on a standardized exam,” said Brenda Lemanski, who has two kids in the district.
Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the Michigan Education Association, the teachers’ union, agrees that there is added pressure to “teach to the test.”
“When you put those kinds of stakes on a standardized test, it becomes really dangerous for the student,” said Pratt. “Test scores can be useful, but you have to take in account that it’s not the only way that you can and should measure student success and teacher effectiveness.”
Another way the district plans to balance the cost of all-day kindergarten is to reduce salary and benefits for the employees.
“School employees are willing to make sacrifices,” said Pratt. “But at some point you reach a concern in terms of the ability of any school district to keep the people that they want.”
Because Haslett will face a fiscally difficult year, there are plans to reduce employee salary in hopes to combat the cost of implementing all-day kindergarten.