School board votes to consolidate kindergarten classes

COLUMBIA CITY — A proposal to consolidate kindergartners who attend school for a half day at Whitley County Consolidated Schools won a narrow victory Monday night.At its regular board meeting, the corporation’s Board of School Trustees took public input regarding a proposal made at the last meeting by Superintendent Dr. Patricia O’Connor.In that proposal, O’Connor suggested to the board Jan. 3 that some of the corporation’s elementary schools stop offering half-day kindergarten for the 2011-2012 school year.For the 2010-2011 school year, according to O’Connor, students who attended kindergarten for a half day were in class in the morning, with the exception of Northern Heights Elementary School that had one half-day class of 13 children in the afternoon.At Coesse, two kindergarten classes were made up largely of all-day students, with six of the 35 students attending for only a half day.Little Turtle had four kindergarten classes. All four classes had either four or five children leaving at mid-day for a total of 18 half-day students of the schools’ total of 82 kindergartners.Mary Raber has two kindergarten classes, with only one, a class of 23, losing seven students at mid-day with a half-day schedule.Corporation-wide, there are 217 kindergartners. Of those, 44 students, or 20.2 percent, attended a half day.O’Connor presented the school board with a plan for next year that calls for the elimination of half-day kindergarten at Coesse and Mary Raber elementary schools.At Little Turtle, there would be 24 students attending a half day, divided evenly between morning and afternoon.Northern Heights would have one class of 20 kindergartners attending in the morning.O’Connor said the plan is a model based on this year’s numbers but agreed with board members who said the actual numbers could vary.O’Connor also said if there was a large shift in half-day students, the plan could be altered to have the part-time kindergartners at a different location.Parents of students who attend kindergarten a half day, as well as those of kindergartners who qualify for free or reduced lunches, pay no tuition for kindergarten.For full-time kindergartners not on free or reduced lunches, kindergarten costs $48.70 per week, according to O’Connor.Several parents spoke to the board regarding the proposal, concerned that their youngsters would suffer from the effects of being bused far from their intended school.“We’re concerned about a five-year-old riding the bus for an hour,” said Heather Sparks.“Where does it stop, just to save a few dollars?”While the parents who spoke all said they understood why the board sometimes had to make tough decisions, they added that hard economic times cut in all directions.“Money’s a big deal to everybody, not just the school system,” said one parent.“If I wanted my child to go to a different school, I would have moved near that school.”The proposal passed 5-3, with board members Don Armstrong, Tim Bloom, Brooks Langeloh, James Renbarger and Jill Western voting for the proposal while Chris Bechtold, Steve Hively and Deborah Hiss cast nay votes.“I think it’s the best for kids, but I don’t think it’s the best overall answer,” said O’Connor.“Down the road, I think we’re going to have to have a serious discussion about half-day kindergarten.”