In the fall of 2018, the district announced the implementation of full day kindergarten for the 2019-2020 school year. This initiative was able to move forward as a result an agreement with the NTA and Mayor Fuller’s pledge to add funding to the NPS budget. The Unit A Memorandum of Agreement (page 20) between NPS and NTA requires that each kindergarten classroom be staffed with a full time teaching assistant. Now, just four years later, the district is cutting kindergarten teaching assistants by more than one-half in breech of the contract. What happened? The short answer is that the funding added to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget wasn’t actually enough to cover the cost of the program.
In the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Book, then superintendent David Fleishman stated:
We are very excited to be adding full day kindergarten in all 15 Newton elementary schools in the 2019-20 school year. Full day kindergarten will give us the opportunity to moderate the pacing of the kindergarten day, provide a more flexible schedule, and enhance our already rich kindergarten program in both the academic and the social and emotional realm. We are grateful to Mayor Fuller for providing additional funding for full day kindergarten in order to support the hiring of a kindergarten assistant in every classroom. These assistants will allow us to provide small group learning opportunities for students throughout the day. (Budget Message from the Superintendent, second paragraph)
Included in the proposed FY20 budget is an additional $1 million increase to implement the long awaited Full Day Kindergarten program to better serve students and families in Newton. The introduction of Full Day Kindergarten will have a lasting positive impact for our kindergarten students as teachers implement high quality, research-based early childhood practices that integrate physical, academic, social-emotional, and behavioral development throughout the school day, including play, for our youngest learners. This initiative is made possible with dedicated additional funding to support the specialized new role of Kindergarten Aides working in partnership with Kindergarten Teachers in the classroom. (Executive Summary, page 1)(emphasis supplied)
Although the initial cost estimate of adding teaching assistants included 43 positions at a cost of between $38,000 and $43,000 each, including the wages and benefits (Full Day Kindergarten Presentation to the School Committee, October 1, 2018), the line item in the FY2020 Budget book lists only 30 positions at a cost of $30,000 each, for a total of $900,000. (page 21)
In fact, there were 42 kindergarten classrooms in 2019-2020, and this budget figure should have been closer to $1,596,000, using the district’s low end estimate of the cost per position from the October presentation. Ultimately, the adjusted FY2020 budget shows the cost of kindergarten teaching assistant wages to have been $1,323,596. (FY21 School Committee Approved Budget, page 34, Line 69) When the cost of benefits are added in, the total cost was nearly $1.6 million.
We can’t be sure why the true cost of implementing Full Day Kindergarten was hidden in the FY2020 budget, or why the mayor did not fully fund an initiative that she took credit for. What is very clear is that those failures contribute to the structural deficit that the district now faces.