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Residents split on K4

School Board likely to consider proposal again later in February

Feb. 9, 2011

Brookfield resident Brad McMath thinks the Elmbrook School District could attract younger families and help curb its decreasing enrollment if it added a 4-year-old kindergarten program.

But fellow district resident Roger Johnson says Elmbrook should decide on larger outstanding issues - for instance, the decision to close one or more elementary schools - before adding programs like K4 that would increase property taxes.

The School Board heard opinions from more than a dozen residents on both sides of the issue Tuesday as board members wrestled with a proposal to establish a K4 program in the district starting this fall.

No decision was made, and the board tentatively has scheduled a vote on the K4 proposal for Feb. 22, but that could change.

No immediate reprieve

Elmbrook ran a two-year pilot K4 program but the board voted in 2007 to discontinue the effort. The proposal came up again this summer as part of a study team's series of enrollment-based recommendations for cutting costs and increasing revenue in the district.

Other recommendations include closing an elementary school, increasing class size and adding more non-resident students.

Elmbrook officials estimated that a K4 program could bring in 262 new students in 2011-12, but that number could be higher. Each of the school's six elementary schools would have at least two classes of 20 students.

Staffing costs in the first year would be as much as $840,000, depending on how many full-time teachers and assistants are needed.

While the first-year impact would be a net monetary loss, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Keith Brightman said, K4 could bring in $700,000 to more than $1 million in revenue by its fourth year, depending on enrollment.

However, that increase in revenue would come with an increase in taxes for district residents, too. According to figures from Brightman, once the program is up and running, district residents would have to fork over an additional $65 to $100 a year to support it, again depending on enrollment.

Residents offer opinions

Johnson told the board that there are a lot of pros and cons on both sides of the K4 issue, but the board needs to make the best long-term decision for district residents.

Piggybacking on Johnson's comments, Jerry Theder said Elmbrook needs to decide first whether it's going to fill its schools to capacity before adding another program at taxpayer expense.

Marla Kalfayan, a Tonawanda Elementary parent, said K4 would bring in additional revenue on a yearly basis. If the program isn't implemented, she said, the district will have to look at even more cuts.

Sandra Schultz, a candidate for School Board this spring, said Elmbrook can't afford to wait and see whether the state pulls its funding for K4, an idea pitched by state Sen. Glenn Grothman.

"We need to move forward on the here and now and cannot get paralyzed on the what-ifs," she said.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: Possible Elmbrook School Board vote on establishing a 4-year-old kindergarten program starting in 2011-12

WHEN: 6 p.m. Feb. 22

WHERE: Central Administration Office, 13780 Hope St.

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