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Full-day kindergarten will be a big hurdle for Edison schools

EDISON — Jerry Shi, the president of the Edison Board of Education, has charged the members of a task force with finding a way to implement a full-day kindergarten program in the district.

With building space limited and class sizes already approaching 30 pupils at the Woodbrook and Lincoln elementary schools, the full-day kindergarten initiative will have to overcome hurdles, Business Administrator Dan Michaud said.

Board member Ralph Errico will co-chair the task force with Township Council President Ajay Patil. Board members Shannon Peng, Richard Brescher and Falguni Patel will sit on the committee.

Shi said that the task force will include representatives from different backgrounds who can add new ideas and embark on the challenge of alleviating the student overcrowding that has troubled the school district for years and find ways to implement a full-day kindergarten.

Michaud said the district implemented a full-day kindergarten program for the 2002-03 school year under Vincent Capraro, the superintendent of schools who led the district from 1996 to 2006.

He said a bond referendum of more than $8 million was approved to construct an addition of between one and three classrooms at each elementary school.

Michaud said that in 2010, full-day kindergarten was one of many items that were eliminated in a budget crunch.

“We had a $10 million cut in state aid, and when the budget was defeated by voters, the Township Council cut an additional $6 million,” he said.

Because full-day kindergarten is not mandated by the state, Edison returned to a half-day kindergarten program, which has remained in place, Michaud said.

At present, the district has 24 kindergarten teachers and 47 sections of morning and afternoon kindergarten. More than 2,000 children are enrolled in the program.

Michaud said that in order to implement full-day kindergarten, the number of kindergarten teachers would have to double.

He said administrators would need to fund at least $1.15 million in salaries and an additional $345,000 in benefits for teachers in order to return to full-day kindergarten.

“The estimated numbers are on the low end,” he said. “For salary and staff, the numbers are approaching $2 million when you put it all together.”

The classrooms that were constructed to accommodate the move to full-day kindergarten in 2003 now house first and second grade classes, Michaud said.

“In 2003 when we implemented full-day kindergarten, we also saw a spike in enrollment from students who were enrolled in private and parochial schools because (those schools) offered full-day kindergarten,” he said. “We probably would see the same influx and even more outside studentsif full-day kindergarten returned to the public schools.”

Michaud said that in order to return to full-day kindergarten, there would have to be a bond referendum proposing the construction of 30 classrooms. He estimated the cost to be more than $20 million.

He reported that rebuilding the James Monroe Elementary School, which burned down in 2014, cost $19.5 million, which not only included classrooms, but a gymnasium and bathrooms as well.

Edison has two high schools, four middle schools, nine elementary schools, one intermediate school, one primary school and a preschool program.

During the summer, 1,015 new students registered and the district began the 2017-18 school year with 16,609 students. As of Dec. 22, enrollment stood at 16,464 students, according to district administrators.

Superintendent of Schools Richard O’Malley has said John P. Stevens High School started the school year with one of its largest freshman classes – 701 students.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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