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Candidates debate move to full-day kindergarten

The issue of full-day kindergarten refuses to go away in this year's East Aurora School Board race, featuring five candidates running for two seats.

Though the district decided long ago to implement full-day kindergarten -- which is assured of state funding for two years -- this fall, the community continues to debate it, and it resurfaced as a focal point of a candidates' forum held this week.

This year's race includes incumbents Dennis Holbrook, 59, and MaryBeth Covert, 45, both of whom are lawyers. They face challenges in Tuesday's election from newcomers Kimberlee L. Danieu, 46; Kenneth A. Horton, 50; and William F. Kane Jr., 62. Holbrook and Covert are board veterans, with Holbrook serving for nine years and Covert for six years.

Covert, an East Aurora native and lawyer in the Federal Public Defender's office, didn't initially favor full-day kindergarten, but said that after further study she supports the change.

"I think now is the time more than ever to implement full-day kindergarten. I think we need to move now, with two years of state funding, and where our student scores are weak is at the elementary level," she said.

"Full-day kindergarten should have been done 10 years ago, before all the funding [budget] problems," said Horton, a vice president and partner with Probe Services Professional Investigations. He is also president of East Aurora Little Loop Football and Cheerleaders.

"It will be an additional strain in future years. What more are they going to gain? Maybe one more class, lunch and a break. It doesn't seem like it's a life-or-death situation. It's a very difficult decision, financially, to make."

Holbrook, executive vice president of Norse Energy, said the district's success with half-day kindergarten cannot be disputed. He noted the risk if funding dries up for moving to the full-day program and acknowledged that he was one of three board members who voted against making the switch to full-day.

"I felt it was not the right time, but will do all I can to ensure it is successful," he said.

Danieu, a lawyer who has stepped back from practicing to do more community service and spend time with her family, favors all-day kindergarten.

"We can't look at this in a vacuum but, with the funding available, should go forward," she said. "We need to defer to the board. They had a committee look at it, including three members who were against it."

Kane, an investigator with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency who is also a coach and a board member of the East Aurora Little Loop Football and Cheerleading, said he supports full-day kindergarten as long as funding remains available.

"We need to get the biggest bang for our buck that we possibly can, but if funding dries up, I worry about the impact on taxpayers," he said. "In two years, if there's no funding for kindergarten, I'd be the first one to vote the program out.

"If we can find funding for it otherwise, great."