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Archive for Monday, February 19, 2001

All-day class raises debate

Candidates split on virtues of full-time school

February 19, 2001

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Hundreds of Lawrence kindergartners would spend twice as much time in school if four candidates for school board have their way.

Half of the people running for seats on the board support expansion of the full-day kindergarten program to all 19 elementary schools in the district. Three candidates were noncommittal, while one flatly rejected the idea.

Lawrence school board candidates, who will square off in a Feb. 27 primary, answered questions on major election issues. See our special Election 2001 section for their views on the issues.

Candidate Gordon Longabach said all students deserved the same opportunity at the start of their school careers.

"Young minds are the most adept at learning and we should take advantage of this," he said. "Kindergarten is not just play time."

On the other hand, candidate Dale Vestal said he didn't think full-day kindergarten at each school was practical.

"We must look at the additional demands on facilities, teachers and the cost of the program," he said. "It must be decided if this is a priority."

Five Lawrence elementary schools, with a total of 200 kindergarten students, operate all-day classes. The district's 15 other elementary schools, with about 500 kindergartners, have the half-day version of kindergarten.

Nationally, half of the nation's 3.3 million kindergartners are in full-day programs. About 27 percent of Kansas kindergartners go to school all day.

The Kansas State Board of Education included $52.5 million in its proposed budget for the 2001-2002 school year for districts that wish to offer all-day kindergarten.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman appointed a committee to evaluate potential expansion of daylong kindergarten in the district. Part of that research involves evaluation of the effectiveness of existing programs.

"We need those findings before we can say whether the programs are worthwhile," said candidate Leni Salkind, who was undecided.

She said the district wouldn't be able to broaden the program to all schools without state funding to hire teachers and add classrooms.

In addition to Longabach, candidates Austin Turney, Nicole Rials and Linda Robinson said they welcomed expansion of the program to all schools.

"As we raise our standards for all grades, there is need for more learning opportunities in kindergarten," Turney said.

Candidate Greg Decker, who was undecided on the issue, said all-day kindergarten would be beneficial to single-parent and dual-worker households.

Candidate Kurt Thurmaier said elementary schools struggling with low enrollments should be encouraged to offer full-day kindergarten. However, he said, expansion of the program into all elementary schools wouldn't be appropriate.

"We should offer parents choices because this may not be the best solution in all cases," he said.

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