Fewer pre-K slots available as program spending pared to grant level

Dave Gymburch
Staff writer
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Posted 8/16/19

Following revisions linked to state funding concerns, the Rome school district’s pre-Kindergarten enrollment will have about 40 percent fewer students, including all now in full-day programming …

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Fewer pre-K slots available as program spending pared to grant level

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Following revisions linked to state funding concerns, the Rome school district’s pre-Kindergarten enrollment will have about 40 percent fewer students, including all now in full-day programming instead of primarily half-day programming in the prior school year.

The change to full-day programming was due to elimination of pre-K transportation in the district’s 2019-20 budget, Superintendent Peter C. Blake said Tuesday, explaining it will be more convenient for families who work during the day; arranging for mid-day transportation themselves “is a challenge for many families in all communities,” he noted.

Blake observed that pre-K is non-mandated and supposed to be grant-funded through the state, but the district’s program had been “operating grossly outside the grant parameters” for about 20 years with the difference covered through the district’s regular budget. He has been superintendent for three years.

Now, “in an effort to make sure our tax dollars were working to support mandated programs, we reconfigured the pre-K program to operate inside the grant, while we work with the State Education Department Rate Setting Division to increase the reimbursement (grant amount) that we receive per student,” Blake commented.

For the current 2019-20 school year, the district will provide full-day pre-K programming for 147 four-year-olds, including at the Clough school building plus at Rome Catholic School (RCS) and at Head Start, said Director of Early Childhood Programs Dana Benzo. In 2018-19, meanwhile, the district provided half-day programming for 291 four-year-olds including placing 29 at the King’s Kids Christian Pre-School facility; the district is not using King’s Kids for 2019-20. Also for 2019-20, the district will provide full-day pre-K programming for 138 three-year-olds at Clough, RCS and Head Start, Benzo said.

The district in 2018-19 provided a total of 139 half-day and 68 full-day programming slots, including 26 at King’s Kids.

The school district is
maintaining a pre-K wait list for four-year-olds, while it still has openings available in the program for three-year-olds, Benzo observed.

The Daily Sentinel received information from a parent who was upset with the district’s lottery process this year for awarding slots for the pre-K program. The parent expressed concern with the timing of the lottery awards, and said there was not enough time to seek a slot in a separate private community program if unsuccessful in the school district lottery.

Blake said the lottery was conducted several months ago, with notifications occurring just after the district’s budget vote which was in May.

Regarding funding details, the elimination of pre-K transportation saved $250,000 in the district’s 2019-20 budget and was among various cuts to help relieve a budget financial crunch.

The pre-K program overall cost $2.9 million in 2018-19, while the state allocated $2.3 million in funding, said Blake. In now seeking an increased reimbursement rate/grant through the state, he pointed out “this number had not been adjusted since the inception of the grant” years ago.

Blake added that state Education Department representatives have “verified that they were only funding 65% of our total costs and acknowledge that an adjustment was reasonable.” But the district will “not have an official rate and final grant numbers until much later in the year,” he commented.

Among other factors to consider, Blake cited the “amount of strings attached to SED (state Education Department) grant funding” and “different sets of rules that apply for pre-K compared to K-12 education.”

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