There are two topics of intense discussion currently burning up phone lines between parents in Coventry, drugs and all day kindergarten (ADK). Parents may want to ask the BOE to take notice of these issues and include funding for action in the proposed budget. Tonight at 7:30 in the Town Hall Annex there will be a special meeting of the Board of Education (BOE) with their annual budget expected to be voted on for approval and forwarding to the Town Council.
One would expect that every member of the BOE will be a strong supporter for providing a safe drug free environment on our school buses and in our schools. The only real questions are: 1. How real and how big is the drug problem? 2. What actions should and can be taken to protect our children in Coventry? Parents will be asking the BOE to focus on this problem during their March 10th meeting. This should provide the BOE with an opportunity to perhaps have a forum with input and discussion to fully understand the issue and options for addressing the problems.
More complex is the issue of ADK which some people want included in the budget proposal being brought forward now. Certainly there are some compelling arguments being raised for and against just such a program. Unfortunately for the BOE it is not an easy issue and there is not a lot of time before the budget must be presented for a vote.
Proponents will talk about the values of early education, and increased demands of an ever expanding curriculum. Detractors may point out that early education is in fact important, on that they can agree but this is a local issue and should be looked at with a local context.
Our young students have proven to perform well as a group even with some students already getting additional private education. The performance gap of early education seems to be covered. They point to performance testing in the third grade as proof of the ability of our current programs to reach educational goals. Their concern or question is that if we have addition funding and our current students are performing well by the third grade but having lower performance levels as measured in the sixth grade why are we using the money for ADK and not addressing issues in the 3rd to 6th grade level with that priority?
One alternative is to put our toe in the water and test ADK with a pilot program. Advocates say at least we will be heading in the right direction with students and parents getting some immediate benefit. This would provide a good opportunity to refine the program before it is adopted system wide. Opponents are saying you don’t put your toe in the water until you know the depth of the water or if there are piranha present. To them this proposal lacks goals, guidance, and full planning. They say it would be like diving into water without knowing what is below the surface, always a dangerous gamble. Here we are gambling with the educational foundation of the next generation, which leads into the next talking point.
The State is moving the date of birth which will cause a child to become eligible for kindergarten, recognizing that not all children are “ready” for school at the same age. This brings to question the individual’s development and the impact that ADK will have on all students. Just what is being added to the day? Certainly one would expect more teaching but at the same time is fatigue an issue? Are we adding lunch time, snack time, and nap time to round out the day? How much of the additional time is educational time compared to daycare time? Some would say ADK is often supported to eliminate daycare expense for individual families. These are all valid points for rational discussion.
If we do not offer ADK to all students but do for some are we building in a learning gap that will only create more problems for our staff to overcome? If all students do not receive the benefits and the same opportunities are we building into the system some hint of inequality, some elitism? If the proponents are correct in pointing out the educational benefits of an early foundation will we be making a program that would give some students an advantage over others because we are providing a better foundation for some but not all? Is limiting ADK to only a select group of children by using a gambler’s luck of the draw to select the students a wise decision for the students? Will we allow a lottery to determine who in the first grade will compete with an advantage because the community chose to give them a different and perhaps more complete foundation of learning? If your child is not guaranteed a spot for ADK under some proposals, is it still a good alternative way to start? That needs to be discussed with your input.
The final question is always the financial side of any new proposal. Do the taxpayers have the appetite for this level of spending? Are we realistic in our level of expectations in these harsh economic times? During recent contract negotiations with our teachers, staff was asked to freeze wages, including step increases with the clear understanding that the district needed the freeze to minimize staff reductions and meet our current needs. They agreed to a “hard” freeze for this year.
How would you feel as a teacher? Would you look at this as a new proposal, creating new expenditures with a program that has not been fully vetted by the BOE? Would you feel some of the negotiations had been disingenuous? If you were a teacher you may not want to speak in public, but how would you feel? Look in the mirror, if your employer said sorry no raise this year we don’t have the money then rolled out a brand new corporate jet as a new way for company executives to travel, would you feel somehow cheated?
Just asking questions here and not taking sides or advocating for or against the issue. It is important that we all understand that not all questions coming before the Board of Education have easy solutions. Not all people can be satisfied, no matter how the issue moves forward it is hoped that these points will provide some food for thought and a better understanding of some of the complexity of the decisions that must be made.