Published On: Thu, May 22nd, 2014

Board approves new teachers approved, fee set for preschool

RANDOLPH — Stephanie Harder and Catrina Winkelbauer will be the new preschool and first-grade instructors, respectively, after passing approval Monday from the Randolph School Board, which met Monday.

Harder’s position is set at .50 full-time equivalent, and the need for a paraprofessional will be determined after enrollment numbers are established for the four-year-old preschool program.

Preschool will be offered three days a week for four hours each day, running from Aug. 11, 2014-May 21, 2015.

A program will not be offered for those students who are age-eligible for kindergarten, 5-year-olds, but whose parents wish to wait a year before sending them. Because the board voted to accept an early childhood grant from the Nebraska Department of Education, the district must run a state-approved program, prohibiting Randolph from offering a preschool class for the five-year-olds, said elementary principal, Mary Miller. She read from the stipulations: “Any child eligible for kindergarten cannot attend any public early childhood program.”

However, she explained, other districts often offer two years of kindergarten to accommodate those students, employing two teachers, one for each year for those students who are in a two-year kindergarten plan. An option not available in Randolph, although the parents do have the choice to send their children to two years of kindergarten with the same teacher, essentially repeating the grade, or “holding back,” she explained.

Private preschool is also an option for students who will not be moving on to kindergarten, Principal Miller added, or if a child has an individualized education plan, he or she can stay in preschool another year.

The issue of a preschool fee was long debated Monday. Supt. Jeff Hoesing asked all the board members to share their individual opinions, explaining that, should a fee be imposed, a sliding scale must be offered according to state stipulations.

Dan Backer said he felt a fee for tuition is necessary and must be implemented this year — not after grant money is no longer available — because a precedent will be set now. He said he feels tax dollars are being used to drive out another business, namely the private preschool program in Randolph. He pointed out most area preschools charge a fee.

Backer said the cost of daycare is nowhere near the cost for attending preschool. Furthermore, the sliding scale will make it possible for those who cannot afford preschool to still send their children.

Barb Rohde had the opposite opinion.

“My gut feeling is no, don’t charge,” she said.

Rohde said the goal is to encourage more children to attend preschool and preschool in Randolph, in particular.

Jim Scott said he could see both sides of the argument.

“I go both ways on it,” he said.

Scott said he is comfortable with a fee as long as it does not disadvantage Randolph by causing kids to opt out of the district for a cheaper option elsewhere. If an area school offers preschool for free, it puts Randolph at a disadvantage, said Scott. Having no fee meets the board’s goal of leveling the playing field for kids entering kindergarten, he added. Zero cost might even attract students to the district.

Tim Kint said he felt families should buy into the program.

“Families gotta’ have a little skin in the game,” he said.  He used this analogy quoted from a local patron, who is in support of a preschool fee.

“However, at the end of the day, it’s about the kids. They cannot control why their parents may not have the money or willingness to send them to preschool. Implementing a fee-free preschool would acknowledge it is not the fault of the child the parents cannot or do not wish to pay,” he said.

Mike Strathman agreed a fee was a good idea.

“I think there should be something.”  Strathman agreed all students should have the option to go to preschool, but some sort of fee seems necessary. He agreed he could see this both ways but leaned more toward charging.

Paul Schmit wasn’t sure that a fee was a good idea.

“I can see the thought behind it, but I’m more for not charging,” he said.

Schmit elaborated by explaining how kindergarten was once not part of a public education, but now it is — for free. Now preschool is “part of our public-school system, so it should be provided.” Schmit said, even though preschool is not mandated by state, he feels it is moving in that direction and should, therefore, be included in a free public education. Furthermore, said Schmit, the district has received a grant. Tax dollars are also funding the preschool, so it is like people are, in a way, being asked to pay twice.

The fee issue was debated at length, and eventually, Scott moved to charge $10 per week with the option for parents to have the fee waived if they qualify for free or reduced lunches.  The motion failed.

More debate ensued, and eventually a second motion was made, this time by Rohde, seconded by Schmit, to charge no fee. The motion again failed.

After more discussion, Scott again made his motion and it was seconded by Strathman: $10 per week with no fee for those who would qualify for free or reduced lunches. This time the motion passed, 4–2, Rohde and Schmit dissenting.

Elementary School Principal Miller said state testing has been completed and results will be available in July.

An awards ceremony took place at the elementary May 20, and the visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo was very successful, he said. Because the elementary students earned the trip through a reading contest, the district saved $20 for each of the 113 students attending.

Miller’s goals for the summer include establishing policies for late homework and tardiness as well as ways to share lesson plans and daily assignments online with students and parents. She added she would like to introduce the new special-education teacher, Mr. Kollars, and the new preschool teacher, Ms. Harder, to students before school begins in the fall.

The elementary open house is scheduled for Aug. 13, at 7 p.m.

Pick up this week’s issue of the Randolph Times to read more!