By MARINA WATERS
Come Aug. 5, the new Boones Creek School will welcome K-8 students. But the building will welcome a locally funded, tuition-based pre-K program as well.
In a 6-3 vote, the Washington County Board of Education opted to make the pre-K program at Boones Creek a first-come-first-served, tuition-based program at the board’s Tuesday, July 9 meeting. To fund the program, the school board opted to use $150,000 from its fund balance reserves.
“Because of this new school and because of where it is and because of our desire to attract students to that location, the school board decided to use money out of its fund balance for this recurring expense to the tune of $150,000,” Director of Schools Bill Flanary told the Herald & Tribune. “So this is the first program that we’ll have that is entirely funded locally. That is why the school board decided to go on a tuition basis.”
The cost for the program is $125 a week or $4,500 for the year and will be lead by a certified teacher from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with extended hours offered for an extra cost. But for some board members, the cost of the program is a concern when considering students who couldn’t afford it.
“How many would love to come and can’t pay?” board member Jason Day asked at the meeting. “If we’re doing this to help the kids, I don’t know why you couldn’t (take kids who couldn’t pay). Life ain’t fair, but it ain’t fair to the kids that don’t get to come either.
“I just thought we were in the business to help kids.”
Boones Creek will host the only tuition-based, pre-K program in the county. The school system also offers pre-K programs at Grandview Elementary, Gray Elementary, Lamar Elementary and Ridgeview Elementary.
Grandview, Gray and Lamar offer a voluntary lottery pre-K program that accepts economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, students identified as English Language Learners, students in state custody, students who are at-risk for failure due to circumstances of abuse or neglect and any other students who meet the age requirement. Grandview and Ridgeview also offer a special education pre-K program. Those pre-K programs do not require a fee.
Board member David Hammond said that he also felt there are families in the Boones Creek area who could utilize the program but couldn’t afford it.
“Where is the next closest pre-k? Because if you have one who can’t afford it — and there is a need in certain areas in the Boones Creek district where they just can’t afford it,” Hammond said. “I always thought this program was intended to give a leg up to students to help them succeed in kindergarten on up. I always thought we had the pre-Ks not based solely on room (in the school), but on the need of the county.”
Flanary said that because the program is supported through fund balance dollars, the board is hoping the program will be able to financially support its self in the future.
“With the Boones Creek program being completely funded locally, we can do about what we want to,” Flanary said. “I am sensitive to David Hammond’s desire to have a program for economically disadvantaged families, but this one has kind of got to pay for its self because we’re using the fund balance. It’s one-time money going into a recurring program. That teacher has to be paid every year. It needs to generate a little income.”
Flanary added that the program goes beyond childcare; it’s designed to offer an educational opportunity for students to get ahead before entering kindergarten.
“We and the board feels like it’s just a good investment for the community, the school and, most importantly, those 4-year-olds,” Flanary said. “It gives them a real leg up on being literate as they go into kindergarten.”
“We added the teacher to payroll just this week. She’s a veteran and I talked with her and she’s going to be a dandy. She really is tuned in to that pre-K mindset.”
Washington County Director of Elementary Education Karla Kyte said 13 parents had submitted an application for the program. She also said the state has approved the program and that one teacher can work with 10 pre-k students at a time and once the program hits 11, an instructional assistant must be added. Flanary said the goal is to enroll 20 children in the program.
If the 20-student goal is not reached, Flanary said the school system could also spark interest at its ribbon cutting event set to celebrate the new Boones Creek School on Saturday, July 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“If we’re still marketing the program, we will mention that (at the event) and will hopefully have a whole bunch of families to market that to,” Flanary said. “With any luck, we will have already hit our 20 and maybe are beyond that.”