Cloquet School Board approves free, all-day kindergarten starting this fall

The Cloquet School Board will face some tough decisions in the coming months after they simultaneously voted to adopt a full-day kindergarten program, as well as authorized administrators to look into cutting up to $500,000 from next year's budget.

Churchill students
As evidenced by these Churchill students, having fun is an essential part of kindergarten, although a lot more formal learning takes place today. Contributed Photo

The Cloquet School Board will face some tough decisions in the coming months after they simultaneously voted to adopt a full-day kindergarten program, as well as authorized administrators to look into cutting up to $500,000 from next year's budget.

Discussion of the district's budget situation was first on the agenda. Superintendent Ken Scarbrough presented the board with future projections, should spending decrease, increase or stay the same. The district faces about a $431,000 deficit this year. If no reductions were made to programs, that deficit would climb to about $1.2 million next year.

Many factors contribute to how much money the district spends or makes that is out of administrators' and school board members' hands. Increased energy costs, enrollment numbers and the state budget all play a role in expenditures and revenues.

The state government has also been borrowing money from public school districts, creating a dent in the amount of money the Cloquet School District brings in each year. For instance, this year the state gave the Cloquet district 73 percent of what their payments are supposed to be each year. That means the state is borrowing about 27 percent, which equates to about $5 million for the district.

To keep the district's deficit from growing each year, Scarbrough urged the school board to consider making cuts to spending.


"We have to start looking at putting on the brakes," Scarbrough said. "If we don't do anything with this scenario in place, for fiscal year 2015 we'd have to cut over $3 million out of our budget. So it's important that we put the brakes on now on our expenditures."

Scarbrough recommended board members authorize up to $500,000 in reductions to the budget. This news was hard to swallow for some board members.

"The gloom and doom here is tough to handle," board member Jim Crowley said. "We're not strangers to this game of cutting, but I don't think there's a lot of fat left."

Board members ultimately passed a motion to allow administrators to come back with suggested cuts to the budget, with board member Sandy Crowley casting the lone vote against the cuts. Those cuts will be presented at future board meetings for board members to accept or decline.

Despite the looming budget cuts, board members later unanimously voted to implement an all-day kindergarten program at both Washington and Churchill elementary schools. The district currently has half-day and full-day kindergarten, but parents who choose to put their children through the full-day program must pay up to $2,400 per student to do so. Under the new structure, only all-day kindergarten would be offered, but at no price to parents. The half-day developmental "Early Fives" program will continue as well.

Several kindergarten teachers attended Monday night's meeting. Half-day Churchill Elementary kindergarten teacher Lisa Berube spoke to board members along with full-day kindergarten teacher Stacy Peterson. Both stressed the importance of having the ability to teach children all day long, as opposed to having short, half-day lessons.

"As a half-day teacher, what's frustrating is to keep up with the all-day lessons I can never stop and reteach," Berube said. "I have to keep moving with the time that I have. At times I feel that it's going against what I think is the best practice as a teacher."

Both teachers stressed the importance of full-day kindergarten in developing social skills and for creating better students throughout kids' entire education. They said many students who go through half-day kindergarten are behind in school for many years compared to students who go through the full-day class.


"It's just not fair to the students to have the haves and the have-nots," Berube said. "We're not making it equal for all students and I think we need to."

In the end, board members saw the importance of the program and what it could mean for the school district.

"If we don't give [struggling students] the best chance, they're not going to make it," Jim Crowley said.

The benefits of implementing full-day kindergarten come at a cost, however. The program will need an estimated $260,000 each year for recurring budget costs such as teacher salaries. There will also be a one-time budget cost of about $18,000 to upgrade rooms and purchase classroom equipment.

However, some of those budget costs could be counter-balanced with savings. Without half-day kindergarten, there will be a reduction of five kindergarten noon bus runs, which can save the district up to $75,000 per year. Also, if Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal is passed, the district would see about $140,000 in 2013 to go towards full-day kindergarten. Administrators also estimate that they will gain about 15 students in enrollment because the district previously couldn't offer full-day kindergarten to the capacity that they will soon be able to. That should bring in about $57,000.

Churchill Principal David Wangen is thrilled with the decision to begin full-day kindergarten for next fall.

"Now seemed to be a real appropriate time to do it based on the governor's proposal and how positive we are about the benefits it will offer," Wangen said. "It's a big deal. This is very progressive thinking on the board's part that will benefit many students in the long run."

What To Read Next
Get Local