By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Kindergarten just isn’t what it used to be.
Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson told the School Committee last night that “more and more towns and cities are moving toward full-day kindergarten.” North Andover currently offers half-day kindergarten free of charge. Parents who want to send their children to kindergarten for a whole day pay $4,000 tuition.
Town Manager Andrew Maylor told the selectmen Monday night he supports including in the budget for next fiscal year the $660,000 required to make the program free. It will be up to the May 2014 Town Meeting to approve the expenditure.
Hutchinson said last night it’s a “wonderful thing” if the schools can “eliminate obstacles” to encouraging students to learn. Noting that some parents have concerns about the change, he said the School Department will soon send out more detailed information about what free, full-day kindergarten will mean for North Andover.
“We want to work with parents,” he said. Hutchinson pointed out that state law does not require parents to send their children to kindergarten. In Massachusetts, compulsory education does not start until first grade.
North Andover has 350 kindergartners. School Business Administrator James Mealey said 70 percent of them attend for a full day.
If next year’s Town Meeting approves, full-day kindergarten will begin in the fall of 2014. Mealey said the town will “take a hit” in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, by spending $660,000 for the program.
In subsequent fiscal years, however, the town’s Chapter 70 education aid from the state will rise from $1.4 million to $2,450,000 per year, he said. The state encourages communities to offer full-day kindergarten by reimbursing a school district $7,000 for every kindergartner who attends for the entire day, he said.
School Committee Chairman Stanley Limpert said that “more education” is taking place in kindergarten nowadays than was occurring a generation or two ago. Judith Rogers, director of the kindergarten program, noted that many of the activities in the classrooms she directs are geared toward preparing young students to learn how to read.
Two parents, Carrie Leary and Debbie Carusi, cautioned the school officials that not every child is ready to attend kindergarten for a full day.