Kindergarten questions answered

HUDSON – With assurances from state officials that the district will receive enough kindergarten funding to implement a quality program this fall at little, if any, additional cost to taxpayers, the School Board took a few more steps toward that goal at a special meeting Wednesday night.

Answered was the question of how many portable classrooms should be brought in, and where they would go, after lengthy discussion. By unanimous vote, the board gave the administration the go-ahead to pursue two doublewide portables, one for Nottingham West and another for Hills Garrison elementary schools.

According to legislative funding guidelines, the state would pay the cost of the portables, including their installation, on a three-year lease-purchase plan.

Each double portable can accommodate up to 80 students – 40 in each classroom, Superintendent Randy Bell told the board. As of Wednesday, he said, 177 children had been registered for kindergarten. Sixty-eight would attend Nottingham West, 61 would go to Hills Garrison, and 48 to Library Street School, according to Bell’s figures.

The concerns over whether the state would, in the end, provide funds it promised the district arose out of a brief statement in a state report that Bell read at last week’s School Board meeting. The issue was settled in subsequent conversations with state Department of Education administrator Ed Murdough, Bell said.

“My concerns have been alleviated,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I think what happened is the state has been seeing (kindergarten funding) estimates going up across the state, which led (officials) to voice some concern about how much they’ll be able to come up with.”

“I’ve got no qualms, now that I’ve spoken with Ed,” he said. “I’m confident now that we’ll be able to implement the high-quality program we want with minimal, and possibly no, impact to taxpayers.”

Current figuring also takes into account the possibility that the kindergarten enrollment number may rise roughly 10 percent, to around 200, by the time every child is registered, Bell said.

But officials are also looking ahead to fall 2010, Bell said, when it’s expected that enrollment will spike significantly over the 2009 numbers. He chalks that up to the likelihood that parents of many 5-year-olds, rather than guess whether Hudson would have public kindergarten this fall, had already enrolled their children in private kindergartens.

The board shied away from planning a portable for the Library Street School because of the tight quarters. “It would probably have to go in the spot where the youngsters now play, so we’d rather not put one there if we can help it.”

Library Street principal Scott Baker, who was one of several educators in the audience, told the board he can create two kindergarten classrooms – one by moving the Head Start program to Hills Garrison, the other by combining the school’s two resource rooms.

Another topic discussed Wednesday night was whether the district would be able to use part of its expected federal stimulus funds to pay additional staff that may be needed.

The board continues its hectic schedule Monday, when it holds its regular bimonthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the selectmen’s room at Town Hall.