GORHAM – Gorham parents are mobilizing in a drive to fund all-day kindergarten in the 2012-13 budget.

A citizens group, All-Day Kindergarten for All Kids Committee, has mounted a campaign that pushes the Gorham School Department to implement an all-day program. Material distributed by the committee said all-day kindergarten startup and personnel costs would run $382,000. School officials say it’s not economically feasible now.

“The Gorham All-Day Kindergarten Committee is deeply disappointed with responses of Gorham School Committee members and Superintendent Ted Sharp to questions from the Town Council,” Kelli Deveau, a parent, said Wednesday.

Superintendent Ted Sharp said Tuesday at a budget workshop with the Gorham Town Council that an all-day kindergarten program is “shelf ready” in Gorham.

“What has held us back is the financial climate,” he said.

Sharp reported the proposed school budget already passed by the School Committee is $32.2 million, which represents a $1 million increase over this year’s budget. The proposed spending would hike the amount of school spending to be paid by Gorham taxpayers by $429,304, from $13,260,760 to $13,690,064.

The School Committee’s budget, if approved by the Town Council on Tuesday, June 5, and voters in a school budget validation referendum on Tuesday, June 12, would raise taxes by 28 cents per $1,000 of valuation. That would raise taxes $56 on a home valued at $200,000 to support Gorham schools.

But in their quest for all-day kindergarten, parents aren’t giving up.

“We are still trying. It isn’t over until a budget is approved by the community; we still have the power to demand that our voices be heard, but it needs to be all of us who really want all-day kindergarten for the children of Gorham speaking up,” a message posted on the committee’s Facebook page reads.

A dozen parents attended Tuesday’s joint budget discussion, but typically workshops do not include public input, and no one from the public requested to speak when Brenda Caldwell, chairwoman of the Town Council, asked.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled at a council meeting on June 5.

“There will be public comment at that meeting,” Caldwell said Tuesday.

Philip Gagnon, vice chairman of the Town Council, suggested Tuesday that the school department go out to bond for financing of capital improvements, leaving money available in the budget for all-day kindergarten.

“I’m a supporter of all-day K,” Gagnon said.

Gagnon asked when all-day kindergarten would be economically feasible, but School Committee Chairman James Hager said, “I’m not qualified to guess.”

According to school department enrollment figures, Gorham had 180 kindergarten students in its three schools on Sept. 1, 2011.

Kindergarten is now divided by morning and afternoon sessions.

The parents’ committee claims that with the opening of the new Great Falls School, Gorham has space for all-day kindergarten.

This week, the committee submitted a letter to town councilors.

“There is increasing conversation and questions being asked about the level of commitment to education in a community that doesn’t offer the basic foundation to its very youngest learners,” the letter said.

Literature distributed by the citizens committee said, “the extended day kindergarten program is being offered for only the most at risk students, however, those who need occasional support – the average learner – the careful child who needs more time, or those who are ready for enrichment opportunities, are not provided the extra time in the classroom.”

Town Councilor Michael Phinney said the council doesn’t make decisions as to how the school department spends its money, and it is not the council’s responsibility to tell schools what programs to institute. If councilors want to debate this, Phinney said, they should go to a School Committee meeting.

The Town Council does act on whether to approve the school budget, and opposition appears mounting.

“I can’t in good conscience accept a budget that does not have all-day kindergarten,” Town Councilor John Pressey said.

He added that he thought it should be a priority.

School Committee member Dennis Libby said the committee reviews programs. Sharp said the department “conceptually” supports all-day kindergarten, and they are not debating its merits.

“It’s about when can we do it,” Sharp said.

To bolster support, the citizens committee is collecting signatures on a petition.

“When I was approached before the meeting they said they had over 150 and were seeking more. They will be collecting signatures at the founders festival [this weekend],” Gagnon said Wednesday.

At the workshop, Pressey asked for a poll of the Town Council about all-day kindergarten, but Caldwell rejected the request.

“It’s not appropriate to take a poll,” said Caldwell, who stated at the beginning of the workshop that no votes would be taken.

The all-day committee says Gorham is one of four school districts in Cumberland and York counties that do not offer all-day kindergarten. The nearby Westbrook school district provides all-day kindergarten.

“It is time to not only make all-day kindergarten a wish, but a priority,” the parent committee wrote to the council.

Sharp said Gorham is hopeful in the foreseeable future to implement the program. “We can’t read the tea leaves,” Sharp said about the economy.


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