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Marlborough approves full-day kindergarten

School officials in Marlborough have reluctantly agreed to move forward with a plan to implement district-funded full-day kindergarten, despite concerns about the strain it could put on the rest of the system’s budget.

In order to include full-day kindergarten and a credit recovery program for high school students, and keep next year’s school budget within the 4.5 percent increase over the current year that was set by the City Council, Superintendent Richard P. Langlois had to come up with $634,485 in cuts to a budget that had been drafted to keep all services at the same level.

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“These are tough choices and I feel bad you have to make those choices, but here we are,” Langlois told the School Committee during a special meeting held earlier this month.

The cuts were made to a budget that was already well below where school officials had hoped it would be.

Langlois originally proposed a budget of $59.2 million, a 7.1 percent increase over the current year’s spending, which included the funds for a full-day kindergarten program.

That was followed by a proposed level-service budget that was 5 percent higher than this year’s. But the City Council then took off another slice, setting the increase at 4.5 percent at a hearing last month.

Following the City Council’s vote, the School Committee and district administrators revisited the spending plan, looking for changes that would make room for the full-day kindergarten program.

The cuts approved include reducing the transportation budget, eliminating one full-time position in food services, two part-time language positions, and a part-time administrative position, and cutting $57,000 from the private tuition budget.

Langlois originally proposed to cut a facilities position that is shared by the school and municipal budgets, but Mayor Arthur Vigeant, who is chairman of the School Committee, said the position was necessary.

Vigeant instead moved to cut the $57,000 from the $3.3 million private tuition budget line.

Vigeant said the superintendent could ask for a budget transfer if the total ultimately ends up being too low.

To point out the inaccuracies in budget lines, Vigeant held up a copy of this year’s budget and waved it in the air during the special meeting.

“This thing has never been accurate anywhere,” Vigeant said. “We have no idea what we are going to spend on that line item.”

Vigeant said there would be greater pressure on the school district to have accurate budget lines next year.

The proposal was approved unanimously, but not before several School Committee members expressed reservations.

Katherine H. Hennessy said she was not entirely comfortable with Vigeant’s decision to cut funding from the line item.

“I guess I wouldn’t go down that path in how I handle my finances, but I hear where you’re going with it, and I understand why you’re putting it out there,” she said.

Michelle Bodin-Hettinger, the School Committee’s vice chairwoman, said she was concerned adding new programs could sacrifice the quality of existing ones.

“We’re now adding a new program on the backs of programs that we already have,” she said. “I don’t want to backtrack, and I am really concerned about that.”

Langlois said adding the full-day kindergarten program may introduce challenges in the short term, but he believed it would eventually prove to be a wise decision.

“In the long term, three or four years from now . . . you should see a significant difference,” he said. “It will have a significant impact, but not today not tomorrow, not a year from now.”

The school district already held kindergarten registration for the fall. An announcement from the district said families that would be affected by the change will be notified, and encouraged parents to contact the principal of their child’s school for more information.

Jarret Bencks can be reached at jbbencks@gmail.com.
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