Kindergarten students in Gorham and Cape Elizabeth might have full school days for the first time, starting this fall.
The last two school districts in Cumberland County with half-day kindergarten have included funding for all-day programs in their proposed budgets for the 2014-15 school year. Extending the kindergarten programs has been a hot topic in both towns in recent years.
Gorham school officials decided to forgo all-day kindergarten this school year in favor of security upgrades, but pledged to include the funding in the budget for next year.
In Cape Elizabeth, a lottery that was used to select students for a full-day pilot program this year drew complaints from parents, who said it was unfair.
Supporters of all-day kindergarten say students benefit from a less rushed day with fewer transitions. Some people, however, believe that a half-day of kindergarten is enough and that supporters are just looking for free day care.
When Cape Elizabeth surveyed 97 parents of this year’s incoming kindergarten students, 89 said they would have preferred that their children be in a full-day program, said Pond Cove Elementary School Principal Kelly Hasson.
Only 36 students were chosen for the all-day program, which Hasson said “is going very, very well.”
To expand the program for all students next year, Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Meredith Nadeau has proposed $71,000 for an additional full-time teacher and $100,000 – a one-time cost – for new equipment, supplies, technology and renovations at the elementary school.
The costs contribute to the $676,000 spending increase – 3 percent more than this year – proposed in Nadeau’s $23.3 million budget for the year that starts July 1.
School Board Chairman John Christie said the board will talk about the topic in depth at a budget workshop Tuesday.
“The school board enthusiastically supports full-day kindergarten in Cape Elizabeth,” he said.
In Gorham, where a group of parents has been clamoring for all-day kindergarten for the past couple of years, Superintendent Ted Sharp made good on his promise and included funding to extend the kindergarten program in his proposed $34.3 million budget, which is up $1.4 million – 4.2 percent – from this fiscal year, said Gorham schools Finance Officer Hollis Cobb.
Cobb said the program would cost the district about $552,000, which includes $485,000 for personnel and $82,000 for furniture and equipment, instructional resources and technology. The district expects to save about $15,000 in diesel fuel because fewer bus runs would be needed, she said.
About 170 students attended the half-day kindergarten program in Gorham’s three elementary schools last year.
Kelli Deveaux, one of the parents who have pushed to get the program extended, has a son entering kindergarten in the fall, and won’t send him to school in Gorham if it doesn’t change.
Although it appears that there’s more support than ever this year, Deveaux said, she’s encouraging parents to talk to School Committee members and attend the board’s budget workshop on March 26.
“I won’t feel like the work has paid off until the budget has passed in June,” she said.
About 160 school districts in the state have all-day kindergarten programs, according to the Maine Department of Education. That’s about 90 percent of the districts that offer kindergarten at all, said state Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth.
Nelson proposed legislation last year that would have required all school districts to offer all-day kindergarten by 2017. Although the House voted 92-51 in favor of the bill, it didn’t get the two-thirds majority needed to pass such a mandate.
“I think there’s a huge amount of interest and support” in early childhood education, Nelson said Wednesday.
She said the Legislature’s Education Committee, on which she serves, has been looking at ways to financially reward districts that have all-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs.
If that incentive succeeds in getting districts to provide those programs, Nelson said, a mandate might not be necessary.
“I think it will be dependent on the outcome of our work this year,” she said.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: