T&G board mulls pre-K options for next year

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MANCHESTER — The Taconic & Green Regional School District board Tuesday night discussed a pre-kindergarten education recommendation for the next school year from its superintendent, who described the option as one that considers an array of factors, including cost and the state's regulatory approach.

Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Jackie Wilson recommended that the district maintain its full, five-day pre-K program for 4-year-olds at Manchester Elementary Middle School and its four-day program for 3- and 4-year-olds at Currier Memorial School in Danby for fiscal year 2021.

Wilson also recommended that the district provide up to 20 pre-K hours per week for 4-year-olds attending private providers, an increase of five hours, compared with the

current year.

Three-year-olds would continue to receive 10 hours a week of pre-K education, the minimum the district is required to fund under Vermont's Act 166.

The increase in pre-K hours for 4-year-olds in private settings would represent an additional cost of $80,000, Wilson said in a memo outlining the recommendation.

"The option I'm recommending to you does not obtain total equity of hours, however, it does continue to offer our families a wide variety of options that I believe will meet the needs of the majority of our families while maintaining strong partnerships with our private providers," Wilson wrote in the memo.

Wilson also recommended that the

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district no longer provide transportation to and from the MEMS program.

"I believe it is challenging for 4-year olds to ride our buses which are near to

capacity and currently transport students from grades K-12," she wrote.

"If we were to continue to offer pre-K transportation, I wouldn't do so without a bus monitor on each bus," which would cost about $40,000 to $50,000. Nine of the 28 pre-K students currently enrolled in the MEMS program use bus transportation, according to the memo.

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The board took no action on Wilson's recommendation but indicated it might vote on the matter at its next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Currier.

Board member Rachel Strecker said she'd like to see the MEMS program preserved and Currier's increased to five days per week, with both fully occupied, "and then those who can't geographically make it over to those programs, we offer to pay [for] the same five-day program, if that's what they want."

"What I don't want to see is us paying for pre-K when we have capacity in our public programs," Strecker said.

Other board members discussed the need to balance the idea of offering a more equitable pre-K solution for mountain-town families with the district's other needs.

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"Of course it would be wonderful" to provide five-day pre-K for every child in the district, board member Debra Lyneis said. "Who would say that's not a great thing to do? But how do we weigh that against what else we may have to not provide to the rest of our kids?"

The district serves students in the towns of Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Mt. Tabor, Peru, Sunderland and Weston.

After the meeting, Wilson said she and her staff would be prepared for the Dec. 17 meeting to brief the board on an option akin to what Strecker described.

"What I heard from the board is that it's going to go anywhere from accepting what I recommended ... to going to funding at equal levels," she said.

In her memo and comments to the board at the Tuesday night meeting, Wilson mentioned that pre-K education is regulated by the Vermont Agency of Education and the Agency of Human Services.

"While well intended, dual regulation has resulted in the creation of a complex pre-K environment that is hard to successfully navigate," she wrote in the memo. "Any expansion or creation of a public program requires approval by both" agencies, making it "highly unlikely that new public programming would be approved if it jeopardizes the programming of one of our private partners."

Wilson's memo is included in an agenda packet available through the BRSU website, brsu.org.

By Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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