Vail School District to offer free full-day kindergarten

The Vail School District will begin offering districtwide full-day kindergarten next school year.

The district governing board voted unanimously on the topic and said it should be a “budget priority” next year. Most of the new full-day kindergarten programs will be free to families, according to the budget proposal.

Vail has estimated full-day kindergarten will cost around $650,000, based on current kindergarten enrollment numbers. Schools offering free full-day programs will receive an additional $31.50 per student for school supplies and other materials.

The district has not yet identified the program’s funding source, according to Superintendent Calvin Baker, but at least part of it could come from the state’s additional district assistance fund, he said at the board meeting. The district will continue exploring budgeting options at upcoming board meetings.

Under the new full-day program, students will spend the first half of the day with a certified kindergarten teacher and the second half of the day with a non-certified kindergarten specialist, according to the proposal.

The teacher will instruct students in academic subjects like spelling, reading and math, while the specialist will teach students about socialization skills, music and art.

Vail currently offers three tuition-based full-day kindergarten options at Vail Academy, Civano Community School and Mesquite Elementary Chinese Language Immersion Kindergarten. These programs will still require parents to pay a “nominal” tuition payment, despite the new full-day plan, the proposal says.

The district will continue to offer free morning and afternoon half-day kindergarten programs, next year, but it will no longer provide mid-day bus pickup or drop off services for those students. Families will be responsible for getting their kids to school, if they attend the afternoon half day, and from school, if they attend the morning half day.

The district has been exploring the possibility of a full-day kindergarten program for a while, Baker said.

“The most compelling reason for expanding to full-day services is the testimony given by our primary-level teachers and our elementary school principals,” he said.

Elementary school administrators and teachers “very convincingly” reported that attending kindergarten full day better prepares students for the academic and social skills students need to succeed in first grade and beyond, Baker added.

Vail could spend nearly $750,000 in staffing, maintenance and operational costs, but could save an estimated $125,000 in transportation costs, the proposal shows. The district will also likely lose $300,000 in community services revenue, since tuition-based Kindergarten Plus programs will cease to exist with the new full-day plan.

Because of the full-day accommodations, Vail anticipates it will need to hire new full-time support staffers, but it won’t need to hire more certified kindergarten teachers, based on current enrollment.

The district plans on budgeting for 12.5 kindergarten specialists and up to 12 new special needs paraprofessionals, the proposal document says. More special needs paraprofessionals will be necessary since students with disabilities will require adult assistance for the whole day instead of half. Vail will also allot $94,000 for schools to hire kindergarten supervisors on a site-by-site, needs-based basis.

Several board members expressed concern about the lack of a funding plan at the meeting, but said they felt confident bringing back such a critical service for Vail students.

“I think what I gained from those conversations [with Vail families] helped me understand this is critical, not optional,” said Board Clerk Callie Tippett. “I feel comfortable we can carve out a way to pay for that additional service.”

Board Member Mark Tate said he was encouraged by the Vail community’s response to the possibility of full-day kindergarten online.

“I am extremely encouraged by the response on Facebook by mothers, families and parents who are very excited about this opportunity.”

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