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LETTERS / Let’s Talk Pre-K

Dear Editor,

Pre-K was established to give “children at risk” a head start so they would be hopefully on the same level as other children. However, “children at risk” was not clearly defined in the  law. Some counties had waiting lines, and some were funding in the red. Watauga County didn’t clearly define “children at risk” and ran the program in the red. During the 2011-2012 school year, Watauga County received $527,440 from the following sources to fund  Pre-K: NCPreK – $397,360; State for admin costs – $20,400; Head Start – $89,680 and Smart Start – $20,400.

   However, the program had the following expense: salaries – $702,000, transportation – $20,000, supplies – $5,000,  substitutes – $5,000 for a total expense of $731,994. The  program ran in the red in the amount of  $204,554.

  For the 2012-2013 school  year, Watauga County projected the following income: NCPreK – $397,800 (an  increase of $440); State for admin costs – $20,400 (no change); Head Start –  $18,000 (decrease of $71,680) and Smart Start – $20,000 (no change) for a  total of $456,200. However, the County projected the  following expenses: salaries – $719,803 (increase of $17,809), transportation  – $20,000 (no change), supplies – $5,000 (no change) and substitutes – $12,000  (increase of $7,000) for a total expense of

 $756,803. The program was projected to run in the red in the amount of  $300,603.

 The cut in funding appears to be coincidental to an attempt to define “children at risk” as is evidenced with the recent judicial ruling and legislative stand-off. The NC judiciary is saying fund “children at risk”, and the legislature is saying define “children at risk”.

 While Dr. Kaftiz is quick  to blame the legislature and the county commissioners for everything, the  school board could not continue to fund the Pre-K program in the red. The school board had to identify the “children at risk” despite the funding cuts. The following “At Risk Factors” were identified by the school board: income, medical or cognitive (learning) disability, English language learners,  children of military families, potential delays in cognitive, motor and  language identified by screening.

 The school board actually decreased the Pre-K budget from $731,994 to $455,800. The legislature only decreased the funding by $71,240. Instead of running in the red, the school board narrowed the “children at risk” from 162 to 90. Instead of running 9 Pre-K programs at 8 locations (all elementary schools), the school board developed  a program to fund 5 classes at 4 schools “based on  need” (Cove Creek, Green Valley, Hardin Park (2) and Parkway).

 The school board prepared a matrix (spreadsheet/chart) showing children identified with a number of factors (4,3,2,1 and total for each school). The following children were identified: Bethel (9) and Mabel (8) had the fewest with Hardin Park with 39,  Parkway 27, Green Valley 24, Cove Creek and Valle Crucis with 18 and Blowing  Rock with 16.  For example:  Hardin Park had 10 children with 4 risk factors. 9 with 3 risk factors, 14 with 2 risk factors and 6 with 1 risk factor.  Bethel had 0 children with 4 risk factors, 4 with 3 risk factors, 3 with 2 risk factors and 2 with 1 risk factor.

 The school board did not identify the individual factors represented on their spreadsheet (matrix).  However, Hardin Park most likely has a high number of English Language Learners.

 At the Bethel School Town Hall meeting with the school board on Sept.18, the school board did not give the parents and teachers an adequate answer to their questions as to why Bethel did not get a Pre-K  program. Unfortunately, the Superintendent and the school board chose to play their political cards–they blamed it on the legislature and the commissioners. Dr. Kafitz, a registered Democrat, went as far as to give advice on voting.

 The amazing fact was that Bethel parents were willing to pay for the Pre-K but their offer was ignored with last minute notification of termination of the Pre-K program. (Bethel prides itself as a community that takes care of each other.)

 Now you have the facts; you decide.

 Deborah Greene