SARANAC LAKE - Three private preschool and child care providers want to take back the Saranac Lake Central School District's Universal Pre-Kindergarten program.
Colleen Locke of Kids R' Us, Deb Sior of Tendercare Tot Center and Deb Roddy of Children's Corner told the Saranac Lake school board Wednesday that they could have served all the children who signed up for UPK this year, which the school district couldn't afford to do, and saved the district money.
The proposal comes after the number of 4-year-olds who applied for UPK exceeded the number of slots available for the state-grant-funded program for the second year in a row, forcing the district to hold a lottery to determine who gets into UPK. Roughly 72 children signed up this year, but only 51 slots were available, 36 of which were assigned to the district's morning and afternoon UPK programs at Bloomingdale Elementary and the remaining 15 of which were divided up between the three providers.
Local day-care and preschool providers, from left, Colleen Locke of Kids R Us, Deb Roddy of Children’s Corner and Deb Sior of Tendercare Tot Center speak to the Saranac Lake school board at its meeting Wednesday in the Petrova School library.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The 21 kids who didn't win the lottery were put on a waiting list. Some eventually got into the program; others didn't. In some cases, parents whose children didn't get a grant-funded UPK slot paid one of three providers out of pocket to send their kids to preschool.
In years past, the district has used its own funds to cover the additional children who didn't get grant-funded UPK slots, but the district opted not to do that this year because of its budget constraints.
The state gives the district $2,700 per student, or $137,700 a year, in UPK funding, an amount that hasn't changed since 1999. It doesn't cover the district's UPK costs, which this year were $201,715, including more than $150,000 in salary and benefits to the certified teacher and teaching assistant who run the program. In total, the district's loss was $64,015 this year.
The three providers said their combined costs to run the program are less, about $194,000. If they had received the $137,700 state allocation this year, Locke said they could have served the 51 kids who got into the program, plus the 21 wait-listed kids at an additional cost to the district of $56,700, less than its $64,015 loss this year.
"If the district had decided to say, 'We're turning it over to the community-based organizations this year,' 72 children could have been funded for a little over $7,000 less than it cost the district to keep it in house with 36 kids," Locke said. "Essentially, every child this year could have received UPK services for less than what you're paying right now for 51."
The proposal would be a return to the way UPK had been run until 2008. Locke, who helped to bring the UPK program to the district in the late 1990s, said the district completely outsourced the program to Kids R Us and Children's Corner for its first nine years, when she said it operated at no additional cost to the taxpayers. In 2008, the district decided to offer its own UPK program, hiring a teacher and a teacher's aide, and the number of UPK slots that went to the providers was cut back to what it is today (15).
Roddy noted that their analysis of the cost-benefit to the district doesn't include the cost of providing mid-day bus transportation to Bloomingdale for the district's 36 UPK kids, which school officials say is between $50,000 and $70,000.
Superintendent Gerald Goldman asked if the three providers would offer bus transportation.
"We do think it's important to do transportation for families that can't afford transportation," he said.
Locke said the district would provide UPK bus transportation in the morning using the same routes it uses now to pick up students for other schools. She said mid-day bus transportation wouldn't be necessary because the providers would only serve children in morning programs.
Locke also noted that two of the providers offer after-school school care for kids. She said that when Kids R Us and Children's Corner ran the program entirely, most families who wanted their kids brought elsewhere - home, to a grandparent's house or another daycare provider - after the UPK ended at mid-day "thought outside the box" and found a way to do it.
Asked what would happen if demand for the program continues to grow, the providers said they could potentially absorb up to 85 UPK students combined.
Sior said the teachers in their pre-kindergarten programs are state certified, they follow state Education Department standards and use district curriculum.
"It's really a great opportunity for the Saranac Lake Central School District," Roddy said. "We were hoping that each child who wants a slot can get a slot for a reduced price for the district and everyone benefits."
School board members didn't discuss the merits of the proposal Wednesday night. Board President Debra Lennon said the district's plans for UPK next year will likely come up at a future meeting.
"That's great information," she said. "We're going to have more discussions on this, and we'll definitely be in touch."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.