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Parents beg to keep kindergarten and camp

Six years ago, Mike Nelson, then assistant superintendent for the Enumclaw School District, was taking heat for proposing full-day kindergarten for every student in the district.

At a community forum March 24 to discuss the school district’s proposed $2 million in budget reductions, now-Superintendent Mike Nelson was faced with parents, some in tears, who don’t want to see all-day kindergarten reduced to a fee-based program.

“I’m incredible sorry I have to be standing here,” Nelson said of being the bearer of bad news. “I think it’s an incredible program. I never thought it would be on a reduction list.”

As parents shared stories of their kindergarten students reading and how their other children won’t have the same opportunity, Nelson explained how the program is funded with Initiative 728 money that the state is planning to take away from school districts as it faces its own billion-dollar deficit. It costs the district approximately $500,000 to run its full-day kindergarten program.

Parents said they were trying to decide whether to buck up and pay for full-day experience, which the district has set at $250 a month for the 10-month period from September through June, or praying their student will receive the same education in a half-time format.

Nelson said the key literacy component will continue in the half-day kindergarten program and Darla Wood Walters, who helped establish the full-day program, will arrive in May to present a means of squeezing the same curriculum into a half-day program and as Nelson said, “honor the integrity of the program.”

The half-day program will also change, with students in the classroom a half-day Monday through Thursday and a full-day, with dismissal at 2:30 p.m., every other Friday.

Nelson is encourage by the nearly 60 students who are registered for full-day kindergarten. The district will offer those programs at Westwood and Sunrise elementary schools and any elementary school in the district that can pull together 20 students.

Kindergarten wasn’t the only topic of discussion.

About 30 community members came to the meeting at the Enumclaw High School library to discuss the elimination of sixth-grade camp, the loss of staff positions, bigger class sizes and middle and high school athletics.

Nelson explained to the group that the state gives school districts approximately $5,000 per student. Enumclaw, which has lost about 100 students a year for the last decade, anticipates 100 fewer kids again in the fall.

In its peak years, Enumclaw registered 5,200 students. Administrators are hoping 4,000 enter its doors for the 2009-10 school year. At one time, Enumclaw High School was producing 350 graduates. Today’s kindergarten classes are entering at 270.

Southwood Elementary School, Nelson said, is the only school expected to be above student enrollment projections, and that is likely because Southwood is the only school with new housing growth within its boundaries.

He said if that were the only budget issue the district was facing, it would be covered with staff alignment changes that could make up the $350,000, but the state is not expected to fund much more.

There was disappointment among parents and students when the elimination of sixth-grade camp was announced. Camp, the district’s week-long, outdoor education program which takes kids to the Key Peninsula, has been a tradition for Enumclaw sixth-grade students for close to 40 years. Even with parents now paying up to $144 per student, the program costs the district $60,000.

Nelson was scheduled to meet with parents who are interested in researching other options, like fewer days or different sites, or fundraising proposals to keep the program running.

A gray area that concerned some parents is athletic programs at the middle and high school level. There could be reductions in those programs, but they haven’t been announced yet. Nelson said middle school and C-teams, along with the high school’s freshmen and sophomore programs, could be part of the budget reductions, or have an intramural look, as neighboring districts drop them in a cost-saving move. Nelson said a committee plans to meet after spring break to look at those options.

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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