Universal Pre Kindergarten

I sent this email to the School Board this morning:

I received the following email (on my personal email service) regarding the likely impact of the addition of Pre-K classes on our schools. I am requesting that we place this item on a future agenda for discussion. I am also appending my reply to Mr. ***** *******.

On Mon, May 18, 2015 at 12:11 PM, ************* wrote

Board Member Welty,

I’m watching with a bit of interest all the posturing in St. Paul regarding universal Pre-K.

Can you tell me if the Duluth Public Schools would even be able to implement such a program, even if the funds for teachers were provided by the state? When my youngest moved on from Lester Park last year, it didn’t seem like they had two (or more, I guess?) spare classrooms to put Pre-K classes. I’d guess at least Congdon would face the same issues.

Thanks for you time,

**** ******

My Reply:


Before the Red Plan we had extra space which would have allowed us to expand or contract. The Red Plan elementary schools, however, seem to have been designed to fit like a glove, for the population at the time of the construction.

When I went to the second round of Think Kids meetings a year and a half ago I was astonished to hear that five of our elementary schools were expected to be over crowded in a couple years. That was before the proposed addition of Pre-K. I was astonished because the Red Plan was in part the product of the work of the former Minnesota State demographer who estimated future enrollments. What’s more that was before 1500 students fled ISD 709 to go elsewhere. Under these circumstances the last thing I would have expected was our having too few classrooms. This winter’s third round of Think Kids meetings walked us back from that alarm. Parents were told that an expensive new demographic analysis proved that there would be no shortage of classrooms. The explanation involved some claim that we were suddenly able to count “cohorts.” None of this anticipated the addition of pre-K to our schools. At least, I don’t recall hearing the Pre-K issue coming up at the Think Kids meeting I attended at Congdon.

We faced a similar problem before the Red Plan was fully implemented when the Board voted to implement All Day Kindergarten. That doubled the need for classroom space for Kindergartners who went from attending half days to full days. Adding preschool would be even more significant, like adding an entire Kindergarten class to our schools.

We are not alone. All school districts will need more classrooms to accommodate this new rush of children and some of them have been squeaking about it. They are already asking for more tax authority to build the additional rooms.

When I was a parent at the old Chester Park Elementary I was aware that dwindling numbers of children left some classrooms empty and free for other uses…computer rooms, PTA rooms, Time Out Rooms etc. Apparently there are classrooms at Congdon and other elementary schools that we could turn back into classrooms if we have to set up Pre-K classes. Even if the Governor doesn’t get his way this year universal Pre-K is an issue which could come up again. I’ll forward this to the school board and the superintendent to see if we can put this subject on our agenda in the future.


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