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District 428 considering early childhood/pre-K program for DeKalb

DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 officials are exploring the implementation of a permanent early childhood/pre-kindergarten education program. 

While voicing support for the idea, school board members were cautious because of the program’s cost, and how it could affect where students go to school in the district. 

“I think from a budgetary standpoint, I’d rather play this one a little more conservative,” said board President Tom Matya.

The school board did not vote on the program Tuesday. That vote will be at a later date. 

The board instructed district staff to draft a proposal to repair Chesebro Elementary School, which will house the district’s proposed early childhood/pre-K program.

Chesebro has not been used for educating students since 2011. The startup cost for the program includes $425,000 in renovations to the building, records show. Matya indicated this funding could come from the $21 million construction grant the district has sitting in its accounts. 

If the board approves the program, it will spend $719,000 in the first year to staff it and repair the school. The district will spend $210,000 a year for additional staffing for Cheseboro.

While they acknowledged the educational benefits of having an early childhood/pre-K program in one building, it was the costs of the program that gave officials pause. Matya said he was uncomfortable approving a program this year given the uncertainty of state funding. 

The board, which now has new members Vickie Hernan-Faivre, Mary Hess and Victoria Newport, largely agreed with Matya’s comments. Members Nina Fontana and Cohen Barnes were not present Tuesday. 

Shifting where students go to school will ripple around the district, said Superintendent Jim Briscoe. The district caps class sizes at 28 students, but achieving that number is difficult, he said.

Any changes in school boundaries will need additional time, Briscoe said.

“These overflows, it’s complicated, and parents don’t want their child moved again,” Briscoe said. 

Briscoe and the board felt the establishment of an early childhood/pre-K program was inevitable, but the superintendent said he wants more time to sit down with experts to determine where students could go if boundaries change.

The decision to implement an EC/Pre-K program was unanimously recommended by the board’s finance and facilities advisory committee in April. The committee is a group of school officials, teachers and community leaders that meets regularly to find ways for the district to cut costs.

“We think it’s a great idea. It’s going to cost some money, unfortunately,” said Scott Cochrane, a member of the committee. “It’s going to alleviate some of the crowding at the elementary schools. Unfortunately, there are going to be ongoing costs for administration, for energy, but we felt the educational benefits far outweighed the cost of doing this.”

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