Full-day kindergarten costly for some North Kitsap parents

Students at Wolfle Elementary catch up on their reading in the computer lab on Sept. 30. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
Students at Wolfle Elementary catch up on their reading in the computer lab on Sept. 30.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

NORTH KITSAP — Whether or not parents foot the bill for full-day kindergarten in North Kitsap depends on where their children attend school.

While creative scheduling and contributions from the community pay for the classes at Suquamish and Wolfle elementaries, Pearson Elementary offers the full-day program for free. That’s not the case for the remainder of the schools.

The state funds half-day kindergarten, so the district incurs a cost for the additional half day. In all schools except Suquamish, Wolfle and Pearson, parents have to pick up the tab.

North Kitsap School District Superintendent Rick Jones said he realizes there is a double standard for kindergarten parents.

“We started by offering this program for a fee, but that is very biased,” Jones said. “There are a lot of families that need it but can’t afford it.”

The district plans to eventually offer free kindergarten at all schools but it will need to secure more state funding or free up budget to meet that goal.

The district charges $3,100 per student for 10 months of full-day kindergarten. The money pays for half of a teacher’s salary — the state pays for the other half — and a paraeducator, said Patricia Moore, director of elementary education.

If the district were to begin offering free, full-day kindergarten for all elementary schools in the district, it would cost about $703,900 — if the elementary schools provided an average of three full-day classes, Moore said.

At Suquamish Elementary, which has offered a full-day kindergarten program for 12 years, community partnerships have helped bridge the gap. This year the school offered 18 kindergarten scholarships. Of these, the Suquamish Tribe donated 14, while the district provided four.

The scholarships helped eliminate the waiting list for the first time in Jamye Lyons’ nine-year kindergarten teaching career.

“It makes me really sad that we can’t provide programs like this for all the students in the district,” Lyons said.

So far, only one student has dropped from Lyons’ full-day kindergarten class this year, Lyons said.

Wolfle also provides a full-day program for free, but screens the students who enter based on learning needs. During the first two weeks of the school year, teacher assessments provided information about which students could benefit from an extra half-day at school, said Patricia Moore, director of elementary education.

The students in need of additional help attend the morning and afternoon session, which acts as a study hall. The school does not receive additional funding for the student’s second session, nor does the district fund it.

Pearson began offering its free full-day kindergarten program after it saw students transferring to the Central Kitsap School District, where five out of 11 schools offer full-day programs for free. Because school districts receive $5,285 for every non-special needs student enrolled, the North Kitsap School District attempted to recover lost funding by providing the program for free, thus luring those students back.

Offering the program for free at Pearson costs the district $43,820 per year. Since the class became available last year, it’s stayed at its 23-student capacity.

Breidablik Elementary has had consistently full classes in its full-day program for 16 years.

Full-day kindergarten teacher Kathleen Davalos said the program has its advantages.

Having a day with the same class also allows teachers to plan their material more effectively. Instead of having to cram the day’s lesson into a half-day, the added time lets teachers go more in-depth, Davalos said. “Half-days force teachers to just swoop everything away,” Davalos said. “When parents ask what their student did during the day the students’ typical answer is ‘nothing.’ But with full-day kindergarten they can’t give that answer anymore.”

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