Four pre-K sites to be cut
by Kellen Moore
The pre-K classrooms, formerly available at all eight elementary schools, will remain only at Cove Creek, Green Valley, Parkway and two at Hardin Park. Instead of admitting up to 162 children, the school system will enroll only 90.
A projected shortfall of about $300,000 next school year necessitated the closures, said Associate Superintendent Scarlet Davis.
Among the biggest shortfalls for the 2012-13 year was funding from Head Start, a federal program that promotes school readiness for children from low-income families.
Head Start administrators opted this year to transfer more pre-K slots to neighboring counties they felt were more needy, Davis said. That resulted in a reduction of Head Start-funded slots from 19 to six and lowered the reimbursement amount from $468 to $300 a month per child, she said.
Watauga County Schools received 180 applications this year for children with one or more risk factors as defined by the state, public information officer Marshall Ashcraft said. Those factors could include families with low incomes, low parental education levels, a parent in the military, a child with specific disabilities or others.
In deciding which sites to keep, the school system considered which school districts included the most children with multiple risk factors, he said.
The school system plans to send letters to parents by the end of this week about whether their child will be offered a slot in the pre-K program this fall, Davis said. There is a possibility that at-risk children who live in school districts without a pre-K site could be offered a slot at Cove Creek, Green Valley, Parkway or Hardin Park, Ashcraft said.
The school system does not anticipate any layoffs as a result of the program cuts, Ashcraft said. Those who worked in the pre-K classrooms should be offered reassignments elsewhere in Watauga County Schools.
The unanimous decision was made reluctantly Monday, and several board members and system administrators noted their disappointment that the program could not continue at full force.
"We are very saddened by having to make this decision, but we feel it is important to operate within the budget we have been given for 2012-13," Davis said.
The N.C. Pre-Kindergarten Program, previously called More at Four, is designed to improve school readiness for 4-year-olds at risk of low performance. The pre-K program, which is free in Watauga County, has faced cuts for several years and survived last year only by pulling about $200,000 from other local funds, Davis said.
Superintendent David Kafitz noted that the program is not intended to be an alternative to private pre-Ks or day cares for students who are not at-risk.
He said that the closure of four sites will bring the decision-making process to the countywide level according to greatest need, rather than requiring each principal to evaluate and select which students to admit.
"If there's one positive piece to it, it's the fact that we will be serving those children who need it the most, rather than providing an opportunity for someone who may not need it as much," Kafitz said. "… We need to carry out the program with fidelity for who it's intended to serve."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that state funding cuts to pre-K were occurring this year. The story has been corrected.