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Schools weigh full-day shift

Medford School District officials expect to spend about $3.75 million if they decide to roll out full-day kindergarten next fall at all 14 of the district’s elementary schools.

Under Senate Bill 248, the state has promised funding starting in the fall of 2015 to districts offering full-day kindergarten. However, educators statewide are skeptical about whether the funding will come through.

“I personally do not believe it’s going to happen,” said Medford School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas at a work session held earlier this month on the topic. “What I don’t want to do is go and spend a lot of money on modulars and hiring teachers and then not get funded for it.”

Julie Evans, director of elementary education, worked with the district’s elementary principals to determine the staffing, curriculum, classroom space and furniture needed at each site to implement full-day kindergarten next year.

Based on this preliminary review, the district will need to hire an additional 23 teachers and 23 support staff; purchase more than a dozen sets of curriculum and 13 full sets of furniture; and rent or buy about four modulars or mobile units for use at several schools that have no available classrooms.

“This is the full monty right here,” said Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate at the meeting. “And, now that we know what that feels like, we can back off.”

Evans said she and others are researching alternative kindergarten models and will present their findings to the board in December.

“Whether there is funding or not, we want to say, ‘Here’s what we think is best for our kiddos,’ ” Evans said.

Shumate said the district has considered just implementing full-day kindergarten at the eight Title 1 schools in the area or offering a three-fourths rather than full-day program at all the schools.

February is probably the latest the district can make a decision about full-day kindergarten, as it needs time to order the modulars, begin advertising for kindergarten teachers and plan next year’s budget, Shumate said at the work session.

Research indicates that full-day kindergarten helps ensure more students are on track to reading proficiently by the third grade, said Kristin Gimbel, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Education Investment Board and Nancy Golden, the state's chief education officer.

"Support for schools to implement full-day kindergarten is one of the strategies the OEIB is exploring in helping the Governor develop a slate of strategic investments for the 2015-2017 budget,”  Golden said in an email.

Based on the state’s funding formula, the district receives about $6,846 per student, and half of that for each of the 945 kindergartners currently attending half-day kindergarten, said Brad Earl, Medford’s chief financial officer.

“Our questions is, ‘Is there going to be additional funding provided by the legislature?’ ” Earl said. “If they don’t come up with additional funding then (the state’s education fund) gets watered down when everyone jumps in the pool.”

In 2013-14, 123 of Oregon's 197 school districts were providing full-day kindergarten in some or all of their schools.

The Eagle Point School District used funds — designated by the legislature in 2013 for school districts to add back cut school days and hire back teachers — to offset the cost of implementing full-day kindergarten this fall, a year ahead of the state-mandated start date.

“Since we had never cut school days, we decided to allocate our cut ($683,000) toward full-day kindergarten,” said Scott Whitman, Eagle Point’s director of business services.

The district spent about $1.2 million — including $984,000 for additional kindergarten teachers and instructional assistants, $55,750 for curriculum, $156,000 for iPads for each kindergartner and $15,000 for furniture — to launch its program in September.

The first week of school, 327 kindergartners — 27 more than expected — showed up for a full day of school.

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.