4K narrowly fails in Milton
The board voted, 3-3, against preliminary approval, with board President Rob Roy absent.
The district has been studying 4K since Superintendent Bernie Nikolay brought the issue forward in January. He asked for the board's preliminary approval Monday before spending more time on a detailed proposal.
Mike Pierce, Al Roehl and Bob Cullen opposed moving forward. Jan Bue-Wells, Jon Cruzan and Wilson Leong voted in favor.
The audience seemed as divided as the school board Monday. Several kindergarten teachers spoke in favor of a program, and one teacher, Nik Franciskovich, said he spoke on behalf of district kindergarten and special education teachers in favor of 4K.
He and other teachers said they notice a difference between kindergarten students who attended preschool and those who didn't.
"The truth of the situation is some families in Milton are struggling to meet their financial demands, which ultimately means that some children are not receiving the same opportunities as their peers," he said.
But some parents and daycare providers spoke against a 4K program. Cathy Sonntag, a 4K teacher at a Lutheran school, said a public program would force parents to choose between religious instruction and free preschool.
Daycares that offer public 4K could only offer optional religious instruction before or after the school day.
"You are asking me to change the way I do things with God's word and put it at the end of the day," Sonntag said.
One resident, Wayne Cornwell, said the Milton district hasn't fallen behind because of a lack of 4K even though most districts offer it.
"If we haven't suffered, if we still have a good reputation, does it really matter if we stand out amongst everyone else in the area?" he asked. "Do we have to follow like sheep?"
Roehl agreed. He questioned the administration's statement that the district could be losing families that choose to live in districts with 4K. Pierce said he doubts a 4K program would reach many families who wouldn't have put their children in 4K anyway.
Cullen said he's not opposed to 4K but doesn't think the district can afford it now. Under state reimbursement guidelines, a 4K program would cost the district in the first year or two but make money for the district in future years, according to an estimate by Dianne Meyer, business manager.
"We're in some very difficult economic times right now, and it's tough to envision what the 2010-11 budget is going to look like even with our current programs," Cullen said.
The board discussed tabling the motion until Roy was present, but that would have required two of the three dissenting voters to agree to reconsider the issue. Only Cullen was willing to reconsider.
Cruzan said he was disappointed in the board's vote.
"I think 4K is a significant investment in this community," he said. "It's a serious mistake not to move forward."