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Despite concerns, East Aurora on track for all-day kindergarten

East Aurora is still poised to begin full-day kindergarten this fall, the last of Erie County's 29 school districts to do so, despite lingering concerns about the economic feasibility of doing it next school year.

School Board member Stephen Zagrobelny, who has long questioned the need and cost of implementing a full-day kindergarten in a district where a half-day format has been successful for decades, recently pushed for the district to delay its start.

The board last fall voted in favor of it.

"Ram it down," Zagrobelny said, directing his comments toward board member Eric Sweet, who is an avid proponent of a full-day program. "Because $300,000 apparently means a lot more to me, than to you."

Zagrobelny was referring to the $355,087 in what's called conversion aid that the state will give East Aurora for the 2012-13 school year to run a full-day program. The district estimates its conversion expenses to be $249,695, which would leave the district with $105,392 in revenues to defer to the 2013-14 school year.

At the same time, the administration noted that its original projection of 86 incoming kindergartners next fall with a need for an increased full-time equivalent teacher of 1.5 has changed. Now, revised projections put the anticipated enrollment at 113 children, placing the increase in full-time equivalent teaching staff at 2.5.

The district expects state foundation aid to be unfrozen in fiscal year 2013-14. When fully implemented, the estimated foundation aid would be $3,092 per pupil. The estimated additional foundation aid is based on a phase-in amount of $2,500 per pupil.

Zagrobelny insisted he will not support the district's proposed 2012-13 budget if full-day kindergarten is included in the mix, noting the proposed cuts and impact on staff and classes in other areas because of other districtwide fiscal woes.

"This budget includes fiscally irresponsible funding. We'll have to take it out of somewhere else down the road," he said. "You'll get no support from me on this budget."

Board Vice President Kathyann Lorka noted that she, too, could not support the full-day kindergarten based on financial concerns at this time.

Sweet told Zagrobelny at one point that Zagrobelny never bought into the idea of full-day kindergarten and that was part of the issue with his resistance to it.

"We had a lot of excitement in our district when we voted yes," Sweet said. "We do have conversion aid -- more than expected. A lot of teachers and children are excited about this."

Board member Jessica Armbrust also defended the decision to go forward with the change.

"I feel strongly about the educational need. It also gives us an opportunity to save three teaching jobs," Armbrust said, referring to the projected staff cuts of 5.2 at Parkdale Elementary, given the need for additional staff to support a full-day kindergarten.

Zagrobelny tried to convince the board to wait at least one year before going full-bore into full-day kindergarten.

"This program will cost us money in the out years," he said. "Next year, we'll have full-day kindergarten and lose three full-time teachers at the high school. Are we going to keep gutting the high school?"

Board President Daniel Brunson said the implementation of full-day kindergarten has no correlation to any proposed cuts at the high school. He also acknowledged that "no one is saying adding a program as significant as full-day kindergarten is without cost."

School Superintendent Brian Russ said there are a lot of unknowns, but he still backed the change, noting that conversion aid will support the program for its first two years.

"There's so many ifs related to this. That's what makes this so difficult," Russ said. "How this will all fall out, we don't really know. I think there is significant value in creating a full-day kindergarten."