As more Minnesota schools prepare to roll out free all-day kindergarten in 2014-15, they’re facing a daunting practical concern — more kids in school will create a space crunch.
Most state educators applauded legislators’ decision last spring to appropriate $134 million for all-day kindergarten, currently available in about two-thirds of Minnesota school districts for no charge. Now schools that have been charging parents for full-day programming are preparing for an influx of kindergartners.
“The question is now where are we going to put them,” said Greg Abbott, spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
In addition to planning staffing, transportation and curriculum, school leaders are now making logistical decisions that will shape kindergartners’ experience next fall.
For some schools, adding sections of all-day kindergarten will mean minor modifications to existing classrooms — adding a wall here, or perhaps moving a community education class or after-school program to another building.
But for others — namely, those with growing enrollment and subsequent space crunches — it might ultimately mean going to voters to ask for financial help to build new schools or additions.
In Wayzata, a district where each school building is either at or over capacity, school leaders estimate they will need an additional 14 to 16 classrooms to accommodate all-day kindergarten. That’s about half of a typical elementary building.
Consequently, the district will go to voters Feb. 25 to ask for $109.6 million in bond funding, which, among other things, would help build a new elementary school, estimated to cost about $26 million.
Even if voters approve that request, a new elementary wouldn’t open until 2016, a fact that spurred administrators to come up with an interim facilities plan.
That plan, released Friday, shows that six of the district’s seven space-strapped elementaries will be able to accommodate the influx of new all-day kindergarten sections next year.
Birchview Elementary, however, can’t. So the plan calls for moving all of its kindergartners to Central Middle School for 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Amy Parnell, the Wayzata district’s spokeswoman, said the decision to move Birchview kindergartners was not made lightly. She pointed to the fact that three of Plymouth Creek Elementary’s kindergarten sections were temporarily moved to the middle school for the 2012-13 school year with minimal fuss.
“We learned a lot from that experience, and we’re going to take what we know and make sure we can provide our Birchview students and their families with a great learning experience,” she said.
Closed schools get new life
In a strange way, the past few years’ declining enrollment is actually helping Mounds View Public Schools accommodate all-day kindergarten next year.
That’s because the district has two former shuttered elementaries — Snail Lake and Pike Lake — at its disposal. Administrators have decided to use those buildings to establish two kindergarten centers next school year.
School officials chose to go that route rather than to make costly additions to the district’s elementaries, many of which are now experiencing enrollment gains.
“It worked out quite well in that the board chose not to liquidate those buildings,” said Superintendent Dan Hooverman.
Under the plan, two elementaries — Island Lake and Turtle Lake — will send their kindergartners to Snail Lake Education Center, while the Pike Lake Education Center will house kindergarten students from Bel Air, Pinewood, Sunnyside and Valentine Hills. To make room for the kindergartners, the district will lease space for the emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students it now serves at Snail Lake, as well as moving a few other community programs now housed in the two centers.
The district will do things like use school colors and logos to connect the kindergartners to the elementaries they would otherwise have attended, Hooverman said. Principals will also make regular appearances at the two kindergarten centers, which will be run by site administrators.
“We’ve heard some concerns, but not a lot,” Hooverman said of the plan. “Some parents just want to make sure we’re still going to offer half-day kindergarten.”
Full-day K a popular idea
By law, schools must continue to offer half-day kindergarten programs. But surveys conducted by schools in recent months overwhelmingly indicate that most parents will request the full-day kindergarten option next year.
In Hopkins, a survey indicated that 89 percent of prospective kindergarten parents will choose full-day.
Diane Schimelpfenig, the district’s director of teaching and learning, said each of its elementaries has enough space to accommodate all-day kindergarten, with some modifications.
For example, Meadowbrook Elementary is at capacity, spurring the district last spring to purchase the nearby Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, which will house some third-grade classes and early childhood programs. That building will be connected to Meadowbrook via a tunnel.
Making that move will free up additional space in the elementary, which will help benefit all grade levels, including kindergarten. “I feel comfortable saying we’ll have sufficient space of all kinds next year,” Schimelpfenig said.
Less problematic in central cities
The funding of all-day kindergarten has had little effect on the state’s two largest school districts. St. Paul has been offering free all-day kindergarten since 2006, while Minneapolis offers it at most of its elementaries.
Five elementaries in southwest Minneapolis, however, currently offer a mix of fee-based all-day kindergarten and free half-day options. To accommodate the expansion of free full-day offerings, some minor building modifications will be made, school officials said this week.
That might mean adding a wall in one classroom or using an addition in a different way, said LeAnn Dow, the district’s enrollment project manager.
“In one situation, you have a classroom that’s being used in the morning, but not the afternoon,” she said.