Janesville63.2°

Milton School Board gives OK to 4K

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
December 21, 2010
— The Milton School Board on Monday approved a district proposal for 4-year-old kindergarten amid overwhelming support by board members who said the proposal was well timed and well planned.

The proposal, which a study committee of district staff, parents and local daycare providers had planned since earlier this year, was approved, 5-2. Board members Al Roehl and Mike Pierce voted against the plan.


The vote means the district in 2011-12 will start a voluntary, half-day 4K program. It will be available to 4-year-olds, housed mostly at community childcare facilities, and staffed by teachers hired through the district.


Startup costs will total about $725,000. The program will be funded in part through a $1 million surplus that district officials said would be available next year as a result of savings from a pending change in the teachers union's health insurance carrier.


The 4K program will run at a deficit until 2014, when officials say the district will start seeing payoffs from the state for increased enrollment the program will generate.


Milton resident Gary Utterberg, an unemployed construction worker, pleaded with the board to kill the proposal. He argued that state aid for schools is dwindling and said he couldn't afford a tax increase for the program if the state decided to alter how it funds public schools.


Utterberg waved a dollar at the school board in an attempt to illustrate the cost of 4K.


"What's your plan when this hits the fan?" he asked. "Please think about the taxpayer. We can't afford it."


Utterberg's comments mirrored public sentiment earlier this month when the 4K committee unveiled plans for the program to the board and the public. The public made similar arguments in 2009, when the district last proposed a 4K program.


The board shot that proposal down in a 3-3 tie, with some board members saying there was a lack of both funding and need for the program.


Board member Bob Cullen said he decided to support the latest 4K plan when he learned the district could pay for it without dipping into its fund balance. Other board members said the district's study convinced them the program will help students prepare academically and socially for full-day kindergarten.


"I would rather have them (4-year-olds) come into a formalized program that has some structure," said board member Wilson Leong.


Leong argued that other area school districts have 4K, and the lack of a similar program in Milton puts the school district at a competitive disadvantage—especially for parents who can't afford to send their children to private preschools.


"Let's not have them (students) move out before they have a chance to sample the quality education we have," Leong said.


Roehl said he's not convinced the program is necessary. He said state test scores indicate student performance in Milton has been satisfactory without 4K.


"Is everybody going to support 3K when it comes?" he asked the board.


Pierce said he voted against the 4K plan because he'd rather see the district spend surplus money on more teachers for kindergarten through third grade.


Cullen asked if the district could dissolve a 4K program if funding became a problem.


Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said if state funding got tight, school districts statewide could dismantle voluntary programs like 4K before making other cuts.


"I would see a lot of districts getting rid of it (4K). You can't cut first or second grade," Nikolay said.



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