Emotions ran high for parents of the Buckeye Valley School District as they posed questions and voiced concerns about the closing of the district’s pre-kindergarten Early Learning Program to the school board Tuesday evening.
Parents were notified on April 8 about the discontinuation of the program.
The district will continue to have a morning and afternoon pre-K class at both schools, but hours will be limited. Parents will not be able to drop off students as early as 6 a.m. and pick them up as late as 6 p.m., as they do now, according to Kristine Michael, the district’s director of academic achievement.
The district was caught by surprise by a new audit from the state that prompted the school board to close the program, district officials said. “We didn’t want to blindside the parents like we did,” said Superintendent Andrew Miller.
The district operates the pre-K Early Learning Program at the East and West elementary schools. The program is a combination of day-care and pre-kindergarten services. The two locations serve a total of 51 pre-K children.
The district also operates a special education program for special-needs children — called the “Baron” program — under the same license as the Early Learning Program.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, Michael explained the reason behind the district’s decision to close the Early Learning Program.
The program is to be discontinued in 2016-17, she said, because it is not able to meet requirements of the state’s “Step Up to Quality” system that recognizes and promotes quality program standards. The system is a new five-star rating system administered by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The Ohio Department of Education mandated that all schools were to be rated under the system this year, according to local school officials.
The district received notice Feb. 12 from the Ohio Board of Education, informing the district that it would be subject to the Step Up to Quality audit. The district was required to submit all paperwork by April 5.
Once the paperwork was completed, district officials could see they didn’t meet enough of the mandated guidelines for the Early Learning Program, Michael said.
Since both the Baron program and the Early Learning Program are under the same license, the district was in jeopardy of losing state funding for both programs, she said. In order to save the Baron program, district officials decided to cut the Early Learning Program.
The decision will force parents who have day jobs to make new day-care arrangements for their children, parents told the board Tuesday. Preschools in Delaware County are full or are not accepting new students for the coming school year.
In addition to day-care services, parents also said they value the education their children are receiving. They said that they were willing to pay more to get the quality education from the Buckeye Valley pre-K program.
During the discussion, school board member Amy Dutt asked, “Are we allowed to start a new program that is a child-care (center) and not preschool, or would we start a new preschool class?”
Miller, looking for direction to resolve the issue, said: “The question was asked, if we come out under a new license next year, developing some sort of auxiliary program that might fall under that license, what would that look like and what would it cost? I can certainly look into that.”
After the meeting, a group of parents from the Ostrander area met in the hall. Concerns were brought up about children moving to new preschools away from the teachers, friends and classrooms they now know. “It’s a community-based program, bottom line,” Kate Atkins said.
There are 32 available openings for students in next year’s pre-K class at both the East and West locations. However, the district is willing to accommodate more students if necessary, she said. “Funding for the 32 spots comes from the state,” she said. “Funding for an additional teacher would come from the (district’s) general fund or tuition.”
In other business, the board approved a $62,932 contract with the firm CMR for pre-construction services for the district’s two new elementary schools. “The money is to get up to the point of breaking ground,” Miller said, in a phone interview Wednesday. “It will cover the process of managing bids, permit fees and whatever else is needed to start the project.”
Construction of the new schools will be financed by a bond issue passed by voters last November.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.