Free all-day kindergarten will be available in the Kyrene Elementary School District next year even though the state will no longer fund the program.
But while the district’s governing board decided on the kindergarten question Tuesday night, it’s still up in the air how Kyrene will handle an estimated $6 million to $11.8 million budget shortfall next year.
Declining enrollment and rising utility and health insurance costs are some of the main reasons for the projected budget shortfall, said Kyrene district spokeswoman Kelly Alexander. The exact size of the shortfall is in voters’ hands: It depends on whether a 1 cent sales tax is passed May 18.
The district is preparing two budget scenarios, one that reflects a $6 million deficit if the measure passes and another that reflects a $11.8 million shortfall if it fails, Alexander said.
The district isn’t targeting specific programs at this point, Alexander said. Instead, discussions have centered around reducing employee pay, employing fewer people and adjusting class sizes to make up the money.
Or the district could draw on its reserves.
“When you save for a rainy day, you have to realize when it is raining,” Alexander said. “But you also don’t know how long it’s going to rain.”
It’s still early in the budget process, so it’s too early to tell exactly what will happen. The district is taking public input on budget priorities on its Web site, www.kyrene.org, and has several meetings planned before the budget must be finalized in June.
However, Tuesday’s governing board vote means full-day kindergarten will definitely be offered, even though Kyrene will have to absorb the approximately $2.5 million it would have received from the state for the program.
Board president Ross Robb said the district is trying to make decisions that were good for education and families despite the budget, and that research he’s seen indicates all-day kindergarten helps kids.
Kindergarten is a lot different now than it was even 10 or 12 years ago, he said.
“It just gives kids a great head start, especially when you look at the state curriculum,” Robb said. “There is a significant amount of curriculum that has to be covered in kindergarten now to get them ready for first grade.”
Parents don’t have to enroll their kids in all-day kindergarten – a half-day program is available at the parent’s request – but the full-day option has been popular in Kyrene. Of the approximately 77 kindergarten classrooms in the district, only one or two classrooms’ worth of students have opted for half-day kindergarten in each of the three years the state has funded the program, Alexander said.