December 4, 2015
Many Questions Unanswered
With a majority of the Avon Grove School Board members planning to implement a new full day kindergarten (FDK) program, many questions and concerns remain unanswered. The $3 million cost is not in the current budget, and is equivalent to an additional 5.5% tax increase. FDK will increase enrollment in the Avon Grove School District at a time that the Administration says the schools are already overcrowded, yet the Board steadfastly refuses to convene a previously planned community facility review. The administration's financial projections make the inexplicable claim that FDK could extract more funding from AGCS/Cyber School than the new program costs, generating a net cost reduction for the district. This 'savings' only serves to mask the new spending since taxpayers cover the cost of students regardless of which AGSD public school they attend. The December 10th Committee of the Whole meeting appears to be the last chance for citizens to get answers before the board formally decides to proceed.
Best Performing Districts Do Not Have Full-Day Kindergarten
While expanding kindergarten is a noble goal that would expand educational
opportunities within the district, its long term effectiveness has not been
established. Some of the best performing local schools do not offer FDK.
Unionville, for example, is ranked #5 out of 557 districts in Pennsylvania. Yet
Unionville does not have a FDK program.
There is also significant debate about the long term educational value of FDK.
advantage dissipates by 3rd grade. FDK may seem like a good idea, but it
needs to be balanced against its significant impact on spending and facilities.
The best performing schools in our area do not devote resources to FDK;
instead they spend money on activities that better educate their students.
Impact on Building Capacity Not Studied
FDK is expected to reverse declining enrollment in the Avon Grove schools. Once
introduced, the district will be required to accept every child who enrolls. At the same time,
the schools are also being portrayed as being overcrowded, with plans to invest a
minimum of $129 million in new school construction and modifications to existing
buildings. However, the Board refuses to address (or even acknowledge) a connection
between FDK and additional stress on the existing system. They have refused to solicit
community input on their plans despite indicating they would do so earlier this year. In a
presentation by Superintendent Marchese a connection is made between FDK and a new
High school where 'Phase I', followed by 'Phase II - Construct new High School'. A link to
this presentation is provided here.
Full-Day Kindergarten will require new portable modular classrooms at Penn London Elementary (PLE). Meanwhile similar modular classrooms currently in use at the High School are deemed so undesirable that they are not included in the capacity calculated in a study of facilities earlier this year.
$3 Million Unbudgeted Cost (Equivalent to a 5.5% Tax Increase)
The cost of implementing FDK in the first year is approximately $3 million. Despite a 2.3% tax increase in 2015, this new expense is not in the current budget. It has not been reviewed by the Finance Committee for impact on next year's budget which is expected to include a 3.1% increase. If the entire cost of FDK was to be funded by a tax increase, taxes would need to increase by an additional 5.5%.
The Board President and Superintendent have suggested that the initial cost of FDK will be covered by using the reserve fund (rainy day fund) this year. However, current spending plans include capital improvement and repairs to existing facilities that will fully deplete the reserve fund within a few years, so the ongoing cost of FDK will have to be sustained with new revenue. The Superintendent suggested that the improvements to existing facilities could be deferred to support FDK. This strategy would mean deferring this maintenance almost indefinitely.
Administration Inexplicably Claims FDK will Lower Total Costs
According to the Administration, costs for FDK will be more than offset by drawing students from the Avon Grove Charter School (AGCS) and Cyber schools. They assume that approximately 90 kids who live in the district will transfer to the new program, and that this will reduce payments to those schools by approximately $700K. The administration's financial analysis claims that FDK would result in increased revenue to AGSD, and that total reallocated income will exceed increased costs in later years. This means the administration believes FDK is a cost reduction for the district.
However, these projections seem unrealistic because they make no allowance for students that would have otherwise been in an alternate kindergarten or privately funded daycare program. If the enrollment of students attending AGCS/Cyber school is not reduced, then no credit is provided to offset the costs of FDK.
Further, the analysis makes no mention of costs associated with increased enrollment in later years. The Administration plans to spend approx. $1 million per year just for the expanded kindergarten program. They have not projected increased costs in other grades, or for the $129 million needed to build a new school triggered by increased enrollment.
December 10th Meeting is Crucial
The Board must vote very soon to have the time to install modular classrooms for a 2016 launch of FDK. The best and very likely last opportunity to engage the Board on FDK before a vote will be at the December 10th Committee of the Whole meeting. Please plan to attend this meeting to ask questions, express your opinion or just listen for yourself.
If this concerns you, please consider the following options:
Gilbert Facilities Study Summary - Declining enrollment projections and current school capacity
AGSD Facility Summary Presentation
Avon Grove Taxpayers Communications about Full-Day Kindergarten
Comparison of Local School Rankings and Kindergarten Offerings
Local School Rankings and Kindergarten Offerings
AGSD's Full Day Kindergarten Survey
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9D68CHB - Closed now
Avon Grove School District Web Page for Full-Day Kindergarten
Committee of the Whole Presentation - Cost Information
FDK Strategic Intent.pdf
Presentation by Superintendent - Links FDK to new construction and capacity problems