Metuchen school board learns cost of instituting full-day kindergarten

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METUCHEN — It would cost between $1.2 million and $1.3 million annually for the Metuchen School District to implement a full-day kindergarten program, according to Board of Education member Ben Small.

On Nov. 27, Small, who chairs the board’s finance and facilities committee, updated his fellow board members with the committee’s findings regarding the costs and needs to move from a half-day kindergarten program to full-day kindergarten.

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“We currently could not afford to offer full-day kindergarten unless we cut other areas by $1.1 million to $1.2 million, eliminate programs, or reduce teachers and increase class sizes,” he said.

Board member Justin Manley suggested asking members of the public through a referendum whether they would be in favor of such a measure.

Small said committee members, with Superintendent of Schools Vincent Caputo and Business Administrator Michael Harvier, had several spirited discussions regarding the costs and what would be needed for the district to offer full-day kindergarten.

In March, board member Brian Glassberg made a motion to establish an ad hoc committee for the purpose of submitting a proposal for full-day kindergarten for the 2019-20 school year. The motion failed.

Small said the finance and facilities committee looked into the matter.

Full-day kindergarten would require an estimated $700,000 to $1 million in one-time capital expenditures to create classrooms, furnish classrooms, move board offices into a leased space in the borough and doubling the teaching staff at the Mildred B. Moss Elementary School.

The district’s current enrollment is 2,295 students. Five years ago, the enrollment was 2,182 students, Harvier said.

“In projecting kindergarten costs we used an enrollment of 180 students,” he said. “This year’s first grade enrollment is 180 students.”

Included in the estimated costs is the salary and benefits for a principal’s position since the district would move its offices out of the Moss school, Small said.

Richard Cohen currently works as principal of the Moss school and as the assistant superintendent.

“Also included are three buses and routes for the students and other operating cost estimates,” Small said.

The estimated cost for full-day kindergarten would be 3.3 to 3.5 percent of the district’s budget. The 2018-19 budget totals $38.5 million, which yields the initial projected cost of $1.2 million to $1.3 million.

“As many of you know, there is a cap on our budget,” Small said. “We can only go up a certain percentage each year and that is 2 percent. We also have contractual commitments, including all of the collective bargaining (agreements) for staff.”

Small said labor is the largest area of the budget, which makes up most of the 2 percent cap.

“We didn’t undersell or oversell what we could do” to implement full-day kindergarten, he said, noting he was just stating facts and wanted to share the committee’s findings.

Manley said the committee put everything on the list into the estimated costs.

“It was kind of like an all-in approach,” he said.

Harvier said that in his 20 years in Metuchen, the district has only offered half-day kindergarten. Metuchen has four public schools: Moss Elementary School, Campbell Elementary School, Edgar Middle School and Metuchen High School.

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