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School officials caught in the middle with transitional kindergarten

POSTED January 24, 2012 8:57 p.m.

Turlock Unified School District officials are scratching their heads over what course of action to take about transitional kindergarten. Assistant Superintendent Lacrisha Ferriera even jokingly admitted the quandary is affecting her sleeping patterns. Odds are she isn’t alone.

Less than two weeks ago TUSD schools were going to send home registration information for the TK programs, but Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget was leaked and it included the elimination of funding for the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010. The act mandated all school districts in California begin TK classes next school year and move back the cut-off age for kindergarten enrollment from Dec. 2 to Nov. 1.

The problem is Brown’s proposed budget keeps the Nov. 1 date — leaving children born in November out of kindergarten and out of state preschools.

The controversy surrounding the proposed cut is that the State of California would save $250 million directly on the backs of November babies — cutting out one entire month of the kindergarten student population statewide and those teachers and support staff who would have taught them.

Perhaps the even bigger problem for TUSD officials is how to proceed since Governor Brown’s budget proposal is just that — a proposal.

“The Kindergarten Readiness Act is a law and right now the Governor’s proposal is just a proposal. So we are mandated by law to establish a TK program but we are working under the belief that the funding won’t be there if we go ahead and proceed with the program,” said Ferriera.

The funding Ferriera is referring to is Average Daily Attendance funding — the money the state gives school districts per pupil per day of attendance.  

Ferriera estimated between 80 to 85 November babies will be left out of TUSD kindergartens next year — a loss of about $500,000 a year to the district — which directly leads to fewer employed teachers.

Statewide, the Governor’s plan would impact 40,000 children eligible for TK this fall and about 120,000 by 2014, when the Sept. 1 cutoff date is established.

Denair Unified School District plans to carry on with TK, leaving out November children. Denair Elementary Principal Fawn Oliver said that DUSD is small and the effects would be minimal — about a dozen children. 

“The bottom line is we will be having TK for the September and October kids. We will wait for further guidance from the state for the November and December kids,” she said. Registration for Denair Unified begins Feb. 7. “We’ve already received calls from Turlock district parents.”

The year-to-year impacts are also of concern for TUSD officials. Under the Kindergarten Readiness Act the cutoff date will be reduced one month over the next three school years. Next year beginning with Nov. 1, and then Oct. 1 in 2013-14 and in 2014-15 it will go back to Sept. 1 — this cutoff date could lead to the loss of 250 students and ADA to TUSD.

If you combine those three months that is $1.5 million, and then each year thereafter it is further loss in ADA funding for each grade level.

Currently, the bottom line for TUSD officials is the quandary.

“How can we plan for this? I can’t wrap my mind around it but if there is no funding it’s hard to plan. I think what we need to do is communicate this to the community and stakeholders,” said Ferriera.

 TUSD plans to identify those students who will be affected and reach out to them in order to serve their needs should they elect to continue with TK.

Hilmar and Chatom school districts are both taking a wait and see approach.

“HUSD has not yet made the decision to implement TK or not. At this point we are continuing to put things in place but it will be difficult to implement if we do not get the state funding for it,” said HUSD Superintendent Isabel Cabral-Johnson. “We will most likely hold our regular kindergarten registration and speak to the parents whose children fall within the TK ages to explain that situation at hand. Our kindergarten registration is normally held in March, so I am hoping to have better information before that time.”

TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto said he believes there will likely be a decision about the TK controversy within a month from the Governor’s Office.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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