Kids who turn 5 between Nov. 1 and Dec. 2 of this year will be eligible for an extra year of early education due to the school board's decision last night to offer transitional kindergarten for the 2012-2013 school year.
Citing their commitment to children and school readiness, the SSFUSD trustees voted 4-0 to implement the extra year of kindergarten for young students against staff advice.
"We have an obligation to them," said Trustee Maurice Goodman.
A 2010 California law, the Kindergarten Readiness Act, was set to create a new transitional kindergarten program for students statewide who would otherwise be very young kindergarteners starting in the coming school year. But budget uncertainty , leaving individual school districts on their own for now to determine what will happen next year.
Up until this point, children who turn 5 by Dec. 2 have been allowed to enroll in kindergarten. In order to improve kindergarten readiness in young children, the Kindergarten Readiness Act rolled back the birthday cutoff date by three months over a three year period, so that by the 2014-2015 school year, students would have to be 5 by Sept. 1 to enroll in kindergarten.
Transitional kindergarten was supposed to fill the gap for children with fall birthdays who would no longer be served by regular kindergarten. The program is voluntary, and students who enroll will be limited to a total of two years in transitional kindergarten and kindergarten.
The prospect of the state eliminating funding for transitional kindergarten (as Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget does) means less for the South San Francisco Unified School District, a Basic Aid District where funding comes largely from local property taxes rather than per-pupil state allocations, than for other districts. But with the requirement itself in the air, district staff recommended that the district postpone implementing the program for a year.
"To date, there has been no clear guidance from the state," said Robert Beauchamp, director of curriculum and special projects. "Eventually, we would need new teachers. The state is essentially creating a new grade level."
"We don't want to start transitional kindergarten, then stop after one year," Beauchamp said.
But trustees said educational preparedness for young children was a compelling reason enough to start the program now and would prevent the need for intervention later in a student's education. Furthermore, families have been told to expect transitional kindergarten next year, Goodman said.
"We're going to deal with the future as it comes," Goodman said.
Theoretically, transitional kindergarten doesn't present a fiscal impact for next year because the district is serving the same children it would regularly serve in regular kindergarten, with 60-70 students in transitional kindergarten instead. Beauchamp told the board that new teachers wouldn't be needed.
But Sandra Lee Lepley, interim assistant superintendent of business services, said that up to three additional teachers, at a cost of up to $200,000, could be needed for next year since transitional kindergarten students would be siphoned off from all district elementary schools and fed to classrooms at just three sites. Depending on how the numbers work out, elementary schools might not be able to eliminate three regular kindergarten classes to make up for the three additional transitional kindergarten classes. Plus, there would be costs involved in setting up the classrooms, Lepley said. Costs incurred would need to be paid out of district reserves.
The district would need to add teachers year by year as more students enrolled in transitional kindergarten before completing a regular year of kindergarten. Eventually, the district would need nine additional teachers if the program were fully implemented, Lepley said.
The board will reconsider the issue next year, when it will have more information about state policy.