Nelson County preschool to see changes next year

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In a decision that would potentially save the district thousands, the Nelson County Early Learning Center will see some big changes next year, including cutting midday bus transportation for preschool students.

Following a presentation Tuesday night by Director of Elementary Schools Ann Marie Williams and other district staff, the board approved changes affecting not only transportation but also changes that would extend the school day, increase the number of instructional days and lower tuition in 2018-2019.

The proposal includes lengthening both the morning and afternoon preschool sessions from three hours to three hours and 15 minutes and increasing the preschool calendar from 137 days to 150 days. Tuition for preschool would decrease from $50 per week to $35 per week. Additionally, preschool would be closed two Fridays a month for home visits, teacher training and planning, which Williams said is more than what is available now.

In addition to changes in the instructional day at the preschool, the proposal discontinues the midday transportation previously offered to families whose children attend school for only half a day. In doing away with the midday transportation, the district would instead offer childcare to all families at a reduced rate of $50 per week and would provide bus transportation to childcare in the mornings and home later in the afternoons.

Currently, 125 students out of the ELC’s enrollment of 293 use the midday transportation services, with more than half riding those buses home after the morning preschool session. Chief Operating Officer Tim Hockensmith said parents next year would have the option of using childcare from 6 a.m. up until 6 p.m., with the student attending preschool for part of the day, for $85 per week.

“We feel like that is a bargain for parents and they are getting an excellent program for that bargain price,” he said.

Referencing uncertainty in the state budget as it relates to school funding, Hockensmith said the changes recommended Tuesday night would generate a savings of about $275,000, with fuel alone costing the district $83,000.

But despite the potential savings and instructional opportunities, the decision did not come easily. There was particular concern from board chair Damon Jackey and member Diane Breeding about how taking away midday transportation would impact families.

Williams said she would hope that those families would look at the wraparound childcare option and that she believed parents would jump at the opportunity to take part in what the district’s 5-star preschool and childcare could offer. She also said there are some programs to help families in true financial need.

Jackey saw value in the proposed changes but was still concerned about how it would affect those midday families. He said parents would essentially be faced with three options: They would have to leave in the middle of the day to pick up their child, choose to pay the rate and send their child to childcare or preschool for the other part of the day or choose not to send their child at all.

Jackey also expressed concern about the presentation timing. In December, when the board approved its new meeting schedule for the year, Jackey disliked that several working sessions were eliminated from the planned schedule. Jackey reiterated that discontent when discussing the preschool changes, as February was one of those months in which the board had only one session scheduled.

“This board meeting is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to review this plan,” he said of the preschool changes. “I am a little bit uneasy making as drastic a decision tonight based off of this one set of information and one opportunity to see this and ask questions and discuss it.”

Williams said with upcoming registration events for the preschool, the district wanted to start advertising the changes to families by March 1. After pressing his concerns, Jackey asked about postponing the decision a little longer so that it could be discussed in more detail. Tabling the decision was also something Breeding was in favor of.

But Diane Berry disagreed and made a motion that the changes be approved. Rebekah McGuire-Dye immediately seconded the motion and the decision to approve the changes passed 3-2, with Jackey and Breeding opposing.

The midday transportation involves 11 bus drivers and 18 bus monitors. More than 30 minutes after the decision was made and the floor opened for guest comments, one bus driver who had been in the audience shared her view.

Donna Lewis, whose route includes the Copperfields area, was unhappy with the board’s quick action.

“They never asked for our opinions,” Lewis said, adding that when she had talked with some of her parents regarding rumors they had heard of possible changes, she said they were unhappy with those changes and that the district could be losing a lot of kids because of it.

“They don’t have transportation for these children,” Lewis said of the parents.

Speaking as a bus driver, Lewis also said there wouldn’t be room to potentially double up on the number of preschoolers riding afternoon buses, saying the transportation is already cramped. Lewis’ comments were met with applause from the audience, but no one else approached the podium to speak on the preschool issue.

Tuesday’s PowerPoint presentation regarding the changes is attached below and additional information on what the Nelson County Early Learnign Center and district childcare have to offer can be found at http://www.nelson.kyschools.us/12/home.