After voting it down for the 2016 school year, the Avon Grove School Board approved Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) for implementation in 2017. To launch FDK modular classrooms were installed at Penn London Elementary and spending increases by $4.6 million over 5 years that is to be offset by reducing the enrollment of Avon Grove School District children (and funding) at the Avon Grove Charter School.
Avon Grove Charter School (AGCS) has offered full day kindergarten for a number of years while the main school system offered only a half-day program. Both are public schools and are allocated a portion of the available funding based on enrollment though AGCS is only provided approximately 70% of the funding per student of what is retained by the main school system. In 2016-17 the Avon Grove School District's half-day program had 234 students enrolled and the AGCS full-day kindergarten program had approximately 114 students enrolled who live in the Avon Grove School District. With the introduction of FDK at AGSD for 2017-18 the initial reports are that 300 students have enrolled in the new program and 81 students (residing in the AGSD) have enrolled at AGCS for kindergarten. This seems to validate the assumption that some parents would choose the main school system for full day kindergarten over AGCS given the opportunity. The main schools gained approximately 66 kindergarten students and the AGCS enrollment was reduced by 33 AGSD residing kindergarten students from 2016-17. The overall enrollment at the main Avon Grove School system increased by 47 students when enrollment is compared from September 2016 to September 2017. So where did these extra students come from? It is likely that many of the "new" students otherwise might have attended private kindergarten, daycare or made other arrangements at considerable cost to the parents in lieu of the public FDK option now available. The majority of these students would have come into our public school system at 1st grade anyway so the increase in enrollment only appears because students are being brought into the public system a year earlier than they would have already appeared.
When the new FDK program was being considered the administration made the claim that the cost of the program would be offset by reducing the enrollment of Avon Grove School District residing students attending AGCS by over half if AGSD also offered full-day kindergarten. Early in the school year Avon Grove Charter School provided an update to the Avon Grove School board via a presentation at a board meeting. When the presentation from 2016 is compared against the presentation from 2017 it appears that the total enrollment at AGCS has actually increased. It remains to be seen if the cost savings predicted to make FDK cost neutral will appear.
Modular Classrooms and Kindergarten
There was insufficient classroom space at Penn London Elementary (PLE) to accommodate FDK so 6 modular classrooms were installed over the summer of 2017. These classrooms will be used for second grade students. The installation was well executed and similar to the other modular classrooms used in the school district, the classrooms are equal to or better than those in the building. Far from what some would like to portray as "trailers" on a construction work site these are similar to a very high quality modular home and like a modular home they are suitable for many years of service when properly maintained. The primary difference between these and a more permanent installation is the lack of permanent foundations.
Our Analysis and Conclusions
We believe that the school administration’s drive to approve FDK, while it may be a very noble and worthwhile goal, is also being pursued to drive other agendas. The Superintendent has clearly stated that FDK is intended to obtain funding from the Avon Grove Charter School and feels entitled to pursue that funding. In one meeting he stated “The AGCS takes $9.2 million from our budget and it would be unconscionable not to try to get that back”. Based on various comments at meetings it is clear that the board would ideally pull all AGSD residing students away from AGCS along with all the associated funding. Since more than 45% of students attending AGCS reside in the AGSD the financial consequences of such a change would be dire for AGCS.
We believe this step was poorly prioritized over more critical issues particularly maintaining the facilities currently in use by our students where trash cans in classrooms and hallways catching water when it rains due to roof leaks has become the norm. We also believe that an assumption that the AGSD residing students attending AGCS would be reduced by over half does not fully recognize the support and loyalty the community has for the charter school. The launch of full day kindergarten represents a step forward for the Avon Grove school system that would have occurred at some point in the future. It would not be sensible to reverse that step considering what has been invested to date. We are not advocating for the elimination of FDK at this point.