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Two more Loudoun schools to offer full-day kindergarten

Two more elementary schools will offer full-day kindergarten this fall. The Loudoun County School Board approved with a 7-2 vote June 23 the expansion to Title I schools.

“I think because we took action two years ago to incorporate universal full-day kindergarten at our current Title I schools now that we have two more that we should consider giving them the same equitable programming,” said Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) who proposed the measure.

With the School Board’s vote Superintendent Eric Williams, called a “wizard” at re-aligning funds within the budget by Sheridan, will shift $270,000 in the established fiscal 2016 budget toward the extension of the school day for every kindergartner at Forest Grove and Sterling elementary schools.

These schools were recently designated as Title I schools for this coming school year, which means they qualify for additional federal funding because they enroll a large percentage of students from low-income families. The school district has provided full-day kindergarten at its four other Title I schools for the past two years.

“The reason I’m bringing this tonight and because those schools need to be able to prepare they need to know before we recess for July,” Sheridan said. “We’re putting it in the hands of the superintendent to make the best budget decision in order to give full-day kindergarten in that equity.”

According to Sheridan, both buildings have room to accommodate full-day kindergarten for their students and it comes at an estimate of about of $270,000. This cost would mostly be comprised of the two new classrooms and two new teachers.

“This is not a capital issue or a capacity issue because we don’t have to build anything,” Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said. “It’s simply an operating budget question as far as where we prioritize our resources.”

These schools have been Title I eligible for a few years and were recently officially designated as Title I schools.

‘“Title I eligible means that they meet the requirements, but we don’t have the funding and now that we have the funding it makes sense to move forward with the programming, which is to expand the full-day kindergarten,” said Keusters, who supported the measure.

Bill Fox (Leesburg) and Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) voted against the measure.

“When the board took the issue up, we were not covering 100 percent of our at-risk kids and we fundamentally changed to target at-risk kids in our budget population,” Hornberger told the Times-Mirror. “We’re adding non at-risk kids outside the budget process.”

Hornberger sees another real potential consequence that the funding would be coming out of the staffing contingency budget. The framework of contingency budget, which sets aside 35 teaching positions, was put in place to keep the level of services consistent should issues arise, such as unanticipated projections in student enrollment.

“I don’t want it coming at the expense of a decreased level of service of other students, including ELL [English Language Learners] or Special Education or rest of the elementary school students across the county,” Hornberger told the Times-Mirror. “The only way to do that is through a process that is carefully, thoughtfully and gradually.

“Doing something at the last minute that is outside the budget cycle is not the best way to do this,” he said.

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) argued that it is consistent with the need or the reason that they put forth the contingency fund for additional staffing as the fund was established for if a need arose at the last minute or after the budget had been established for whatever programming.

“This is a programming model that is already in place within our system,” Turgeon said, “and we see that the need has arisen with the designation of these two schools as Title I.”

“It’s consistent with what we had established a couple of years ago on the board and that is to provide full-day kindergarten for our Title I schools,” he said.

Loudoun County is one of three school systems in Virginia that do not offer a full school day to every kindergartner. Board members agreed during the spring’s budget approval process that as the program extends, academically at-risk students should be the priority. Academically at-risk students are those who are just learning English and those who live below or near the poverty line.

“Full-day kindergarten benefits the at-risk kids the most and that’s who we should focus on first,” Kuesters said. “That’s exactly who the Title I kids are.”

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