By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — The town has taken a significant step toward offering free, full-day kindergarten.
Town Manager Andrew Maylor told the selectmen last night he will support a $660,000 expenditure in next fiscal year’s budget to get the program started. While the town is expected to bear the startup cost, the state will finance full-day kindergarten in subsequent years, he explained.
Offering free, full-day kindergarten will prove to be “a good community decision,” Maylor said.
The schools currently offer free half-day kindergarten. Parents who want to enroll their children in full-day kindergarten must pay for the extra half day.
The establishment of free, full-day kindergarten is not a done deal. The $660,000 expenditure to get it started must survive the budget process and ultimately a vote at next year’s annual Town Meeting before it can take effect.
Provided Town Meeting approves, a full day for all kindergartners will begin next September, according to Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson.
“I think it’s an opportunity for the town and the schools alike,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a wonderful thing.” Some parents may have mixed feelings about sending their young children to school for a full day, Hutchinson noted.
“We will be working with parents,” he said. Hutchinson said he and other school leaders “initiated conversations” about full-day kindergarten with Maylor last year. The town’s fiscal situation was not that strong at that time and Maylor said it would not be a good time to spend the extra money, Hutchinson said.
The dialogue continued, however, and the town’s financial condition has improved, the superintendent said. More recently, Maylor said, “This is the time to do it,” according to Hutchinson.
Having kindergartners attend school for a full- rather than a half-day is better for learning, he said.
“I think it’s great,” said School Committee Chairman Stanley Limpert, who attended the selectmen’s meeting with other members of his board last night. He pointed out the state will finance the program once the town has committed to paying for the first year.
“I am excited about this opportunity,” School Committee member Brian Gross said. Their colleague Zora Warren said the expansion of kindergarten to a full day will benefit the community.