After months of grant writing, picking potential pilot locations, planning for early registration and other preparation, Cranston School Committee members announced during a Jan. 16 work session that they would not be able to come up with the needed funds to get the all-day kindergarten program off the ground for 2014-15.
Superintendent Dr. Judith Lundsten spoke of the “devil in the details” with grant funding the city received from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to start the all-day kindergarten program. While the funding totaled nearly $100,000, it could only be used for the actual startup costs associated with classrooms and not to cover salaries, benefits or teaching assistants.
“It was for carpeting, computers, fully stocked classrooms,” Lundsten said. “We really need to look at the grant, have an attorney look at the language. We learned our lesson on this one.”
Cranston is one of eight districts in the state that currently offers no full-day kindergarten service, and was one of four selected to receive grant funding in December. Aside from Cranston ($99,072), districts receiving funds were Exeter-West Greenwich Regional ($45,000), Glocester ($33,000) and Woonsocket ($72,928).
According to RIDE’s announcement of the awards, the funding was given out through a competitive review process. RIDE said the funds are available thanks to the Full-Day Kindergarten Accessibility Act approved by the General Assembly.
Lundsten credited state Sen. Hanna Gallo and House Majority Leader Rep. Nick Mattiello with working above and beyond for the community on the full-day kindergarten push.
The Friday before the holiday break, Dec. 20, Lundsten learned that Cranston was only receiving the $99,000.
“Initally we had applied for the entire grant amount. That would allow us to open four classrooms,” the superintendent said.
Financially, the district is not strong enough to cover the extra needed money to support the program.
School Committee member Janice Ruggieri, who represents Ward 5, stated how frustrated she was with the outcome.
“We know how important all-day K is,” she said. “We need to get this put in place. We asked for funding for 16 classrooms. We were going to push back registration to an earlier date because that is how state funding works currently … there is no concrete figure for those support staff without knowing what the student population needs are in the classes you would be adding.”
Ruggieri admitted that even with extra state aid of $70,000, the grant amount does not cover the expenses of one classroom.
According to Ruggieri, the grant was written using the Fair Funding Formula (FFF) for enrolled students as the source of funding a sustainable program within the next five years. Some schools would have two classrooms of full-day kindergarten, with a roll out over the next two to three years for the remaining classes.
The district was awarded the $99,072 for startup costs based on the application, which included the funding source from FFF.
“The only reason we even found out about them phasing in the FFF is that Joe Balducci was at a statewide meeting and heard some comments that concerned him. We then asked RIDE about the funding and that was the response,” Ruggieri said.
Ruggieri said moving forward, officials will looking at moving the grade six students back to middle schools.
“We need a plan that addresses larger team issues, students and space,” she said.
Citywide committee member Michael Traficante was hesitant to bring up moving the grade six again.
“There were very contentious meetings about this topic. We need to explore other options and study all aspects carefully,” he said.
According to Ruggieri, there were some schools that had room for one more class, some schools were trying to find room and others would need some maneuvering around to add a classroom, but it still does not address the crowded elementary schools.
Ruggieri’s recommendation is to refuse the grant money.
“When we do it, it needs to stay. We need to do it well, and make it sustainable. I don’t think this is the way to do it,” she said.
The subcommittee members for the grant were Lundsten, Assistant Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse, Executive Director of Educational Programs Joseph Rotz, Chief Financial Officer Joe Balducci, Executive Directir of SIS/Data Management James Dillon, Ruggieri, Acting Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services Michele Simpson and District Data Coordinator Dr. Rosemary Burns.