New money is flowing to school districts statewide to fund universal, all-day kindergarten next year, and many south-metro schools are arranging space and bus schedules as they prepare to have thousands more kindergartners for a full day.

But the situation varies from district to district. Half already offer free all-day kindergarten and will see few changes; the other half will expand their offerings from limited, fee-based programs and are still communicating with parents and finding the necessary space. Only one, Shakopee, will start from scratch, having never offered a full-day option.

All 17 districts in Scott and Dakota counties say they plan to offer all-day kindergarten next year, and most anticipate very few parents requesting a half-day option.

In Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, for instance, 800 students already attend free all-day kindergarten, with only one student opting for a half-day, according to Ruth Dunn, the district’s communications director.

Some districts, like Northfield, will continue offering parents the option to pick up their child at noon, while others, like West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan, still plan to offer sections of half-day kindergarten. Others are still deciding.

For districts already offering it for free, having the state pick up the tab on those costs will help them fund other initiatives. The Cannon Falls district, for example, made budget cuts last year to be able to offer free all-day kindergarten for the first time this year. Now the new funding “will help my general budget, definitely,” said Superintendent Beth Giese.

In the eight area districts that now charge for a full day, the cost ranges from $2,000 in Hastings to $3,400 in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan. Most have scholarship programs for low-income families.

Shakopee has never offered an all-day option “because of growth and space limitations,” said Nancy Thul, the district’s teaching and learning director.

“We’re thrilled [to offer all-day kindergarten next year] because it wasn’t easy to be unable to offer it for a fee,” Thul said.

Making room in Shakopee

To make room for 650 kindergartners that will attend next fall, the district is adding 20 classrooms, four to each elementary school. Three rooms will be classrooms and one will be a flexible learning space, Thul said. The additions — costing about $16 million — will be paid for by a $13 million lease levy, plus building-fund money and state funding.

Shakopee anticipates 50 more kindergartners next year than this year, because in recent years some students left the district to attend all-day kindergarten elsewhere, Thul said.

The new state funding will pay for hiring 12 to 15 new kindergarten teachers in Shakopee, with a few other openings filled by teachers already in the district, Thul said.

Challenges ahead

One district that is now working out the kinks of all-day kindergarten is Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, the state’s fourth largest. The district will add 21 to 23 new kindergarten sections next year to accommodate a total of 1,900 kindergartners, said Julie Olson, the district’s director of elementary education.

Currently, 56 percent of kindergartners attend all day for a fee, an option offered for nine years.

While 12 of the district’s 18 elementary schools have enough rooms for next year, Red Pine and Parkview won’t have space for all the kindergartners in their attendance areas. Four other schools may experience space issues as well, Olson said.

To combat the crunch, the district may bus kids to north-side schools, which have the space, and would cover transportation costs. Students will return to their neighborhood schools for first grade.

But that solution comes at a cost: “We’re a big district, so just offering transportation to a single site is expensive,” Olson said.

The district has already told parents at meetings that their kindergartners might be bused to other schools, Olson said. “They would rather be at their home school, but they kind of understand,” she said. “I don’t think it came across as terribly surprising to parents, especially if they have an older child.”

The district will try to transform rooms previously used for other purposes and grades into kindergarten rooms, choosing ones that are close to bathrooms, for instance. While the rooms “may not be ideal” for kindergarten, teachers can work wonders in decorating any room to look age-appropriate, she said.

Reimagining kindergarten

Some districts are using the arrival of all-day kindergarten to make changes they’ve been considering for a while.

In Farmington, a committee is reviewing attendance areas because all-day kindergarten will add to imbalances in school numbers.

In Prior Lake-Savage, the district is considering offering sections of all-day Spanish immersion kindergarten, with the intention of continuing immersion through fifth grade.

And both Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Shakopee have all-day kindergarten planning committees that will be making decisions not only about space but about best practices in curriculum.

“We’re making sure that we’re taking the opportunity to look at our kindergarten program across the board,” Olson said.

Shakopee’s committee is examining how to transition current curriculum into a full-day format without “just stretching out the day,” said Thul. Teachers and administrators will be looking at how to integrate technology, what skills students should master, and assessment.

“We see this really as a chance to re-imagine what the kindergarten experience can be,” Thul said.