Although legitimate concerns remain regarding full-day K in Wallingford, Board of Education members were right to authorize the new program for Town Council approval.
Lengthened kindergarten days could provide students a lifetime’s worth of advantages. The earlier a young mind is exposed to academic exercises in a classroom format, the better that child’s long-term intellectual prospects. Surrounding communities — including Meriden, Wallingford and Southington — already have established all-day K. Lacking a similar program, Wallingford schools risk falling behind municipal peers.
Instead, education officials last summer began to research and put together a comparable kindergarten program. In late November, the plan received BOE support by a 6-2 vote. Dissenters reportedly would have preferred further discussion prior to voting (an understandable request), and questioned the nature of “structured play” periods. District staff, though, has specified that these periods are not “publicly funded daycare,” but constructive opportunities for students to develop social and emotional skills.
Another aspect of all-day kindergarten also generated BOE concerns, and could threaten to stall program implementation — finances. Whereas costs to start similar classes in other districts have run between $400,000 and $1 million, the Wallingford plan, as is, entails a price tag of $1.339 million. Particularly in a town known for fiscal prudence, this is a significant amount to add into the next municipal budget. Moreover, school leaders have identified other potential expenditures that could take precedent over full-day K: expanded world language offerings, new career counselor positions, and upgrading technology and athletics facilities.
“I’ve got to look at what the overall budget impact is,” stated Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. on the $1.339 million. This is no ringing endorsement, and perhaps foreshadows a budget battle to come (R-J, 11-27).
But all-day K is worth the extra expense for taxpayers. An academic district is essential infrastructure, well worth the investment. Each town and city should strive to provide their youngest generation — future citizens — with a strong education, proper preparation to attain success as adults. Moreover, such a prominent asset as high-quality schools will appeal to young families contemplating moving into the municipality.
Education officials have proposed a worthwhile program and should continue to push for implementation. If town leaders decide that $1.339 million is too great an initial expense, then schools could phase in portions of the program in coming years. This is a likely outcome — a balanced arrangement that does not overly burden the BOE budget, while gradually upgrading Wallingford’s academic district for the long-term benefit of all kindergarteners.