It is estimated that that it would cost Riverside Elementary School District 96 less than $450,000 a year to implement full-day kindergarten. District 96 is studying whether to switch from half-day to full-day kindergarten and expects to make a decision in February.

“Our goal is to bring it to a vote at the February board meeting,” said District 96 Superintendent Marta Ryan-Toye.

A 15-person committee has been studying full-day kindergarten and will deliver its report to the school board at the school board’s Feb. 2, 2022 committee of the whole meeting. At that meeting, school board members will ask questions and discuss the issue. The school board is expected to vote on whether to switch to full-day kindergarten at their Feb. 16 regular business meeting.

Elected officials were presented with an estimated cost for full-day kindergarten at the school board’s committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 2. Moving to full-day kindergarten would necessitate hiring four new kindergarten teachers as well as one more art, music and PE teacher. It would also require hiring four new mid-day assistants and purchasing furniture. 

Assuming that all the new teachers were first-year teachers with no experience, Director of Finance and Business Operations Jim Fitton estimated that the total cost of moving to full day kindergarten would be $434,385 next year. Because the cost of the furniture is a one-time expense, the annual cost would decrease to $407,096 in 2023-24 and rise to $444,381 by fiscal year 2027.

Ryan-Toye said if the district moves to full-day kindergarten it would not necessarily hire teachers with no experience.

“It’s our goal to, of course, balance the budget, but it’s not to say we’ll only hire brand-new teachers into those positions,” Ryan-Toye said.

Ryan-Toye said some elementary school teachers in the district have expressed interest in teaching kindergarten if the district moves to a full-day model. If that happened those teachers could be replaced by more junior teachers.

School board member David Barsotti, who chairs the school board’s finance committee, said that the district has been running substantial annual operating surpluses in recent years and thus can easily afford to offer full-day kindergarten.

“We’ve put in well over $2 million [annually] for the last five years, so we could have easily have absorbed the cost to implement this,” Barsotti said.

But board member Joel Marhoul warned of financial projections which show that those surpluses are expected to decline in the future.

District 96 is the only elementary school district the Landmark covers that does not offer full-day kindergarten. Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 switched to full-day kindergarten in 2019.

“I think it’s a little too early to tell if there are any significant educational advantages,” District 95 superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.

Whether full-day kindergarten delivers long lasting educational advantages is one thing that the District 96 full-day kindergarten action team is studying.

“They will probably present a recommendation around the educational value,” Ryan-Toye said. “So, we’re going to really assess three areas: the educational value, the finance and facilities and then the community interest.”

If District 96 does move to full-day kindergarten, it would likely still offer families a half-day option. District 95 initially offered that option when it switched to full day kindergarten, but no family chose it.

“Nobody took advantage of it so we don’t offer it per se,” said Kuzniewski, adding that if a family wanted to send their child to kindergarten for half a day that could be accommodated. 

A number of parents have been pushing District 96 to offer full-day kindergarten saying the half-day program makes arranging child care difficult, especially for families where both parents work outside the home.

District 96 is sending out a survey to families this month asking for their opinions about kindergarten. 

Board members made clear that while they would like to hear from the community, the survey is not a plebiscite. They say that they will make their decision based on the all information that the district gathers.

“What we’re trying to do here is a pulse check on the community,” said board member Lynda Murphy. “It’s just a piece of the puzzle, one little bit of information for the board.”

Board member Shari Klyber agreed.

“We’re just asking them about their lives and what’s important to them,” Klyber said.

District 96 currently has enough classroom space to accommodate full-day kindergarten.

“We can put full-day kindergarten in our current footprint,” Barsotti said. “There might be some modifications that we would have to make.”