Preschool is a priority in Geneseo, and school board members have said the district will continue the program, even if the state won’t fund it.

Preschool is a priority in Geneseo, and school board members have said the district will continue the program, even if the state won’t fund it.

Last June, the district learned the state was cutting $233,000 from Geneseo’s preschool funding — an unexpected shock considering the funds were for the fiscal year starting July 1. The funds were part of a grant. The earliest the district can re-apply for the grant funds will be 2022.

An additional $76,000 the district thought it had available via roll-over funds recently was recalled by the state.

“Talk about kicking you when you’re down,” said Northside Elementary School principal Alex Kashner.

In June, the board voted to fund the program for the 2018-19 school year only, but to review options in the future.

At the Thursday, Jan. 10 meeting, school board members listened to a presentation by Kashner regarding preschool.

The district’s Ladders to Learning preschool program is housed at Northside Elementary. Geneseo’s preschool program currently has one full-time teacher, two instructional aids and a parent coordinator. In addition, the school provides preschool programs for special education students through the Henry-Stark Special Education District.

The district has provided a preschool program for the past 27 years. Since 2015 alone, the program has served 213 students.

The preschool program has been for at-risk students as well as those who qualify

for the free or reduced meal program.

After voting to self-fund the program for this school year, district officials “really trimmed excess” from the budget, said Kashner.

“(The state’s preschool grant) allowed us to do the extras,” he said. Opportunities for professional education have been reduced for preschool staff. Other costs, such as providing snacks, have been shifted to the parents.

Kashner presented a pair of options to the district for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

In the first option, the district’s preschool program would follow — to a degree — the paid preschool model utilized by private preschools in the community.

The district’s preschool would be open to all students, with priority given for at-risk students.

However, Kashner under that proposal, the first 40 preschoolers to apply for the program would be allowed in. A remaining 20 preschool spaces would be reserved for those qualifying for free/reduced meals.

Based on a family’s financial qualifications, some might pay the “full” rate of $200 a month, while others would pay $100 a month or nothing at all.

Kashner said at least 20 students would need to pay the full rate in order to help fund the $78,000 needed to pay the preschool teacher’s salary.

Opening the preschool program to all families would require an aggressive marketing campaign to let families know the option was available, said Kashner.

The school district has half-day a.m. and p.m. preschool classes five days a week, with transportation provided. The five-day-a-week aspect as well as the transportation option might make the district’s program attractive to some families, he said.

The second option presented to the district was to keep the program exactly as it is, with only at-risk and free/reduced students eligible. The district would be responsible for covering the cost of the program.

“Having no preschool would be an option, but I didn’t want to present that to you, because I didn’t feel that was in the best interest of the district or the community,” explained Kashner.

Geneseo’s preschool program is “award winning” noted Kashner. “I’m very proud of it. We have a fantastic program with fantastic staff, and our kids are prepared for kindergarten.

“Everything your read emphasizes just how important early learning is,” Kashner told the board. “We focus on the whole child — academic and social/emotional learning.”

Geneseo Superintendent Dr. Adam Brumbaugh told the board “Every dollar spent on pre-k education saves the nation $8 in remediation and rehabilitation later.”

Following the presentation, school board members unanimously told district administrators they were in favor of keeping preschool.

“The program is too important to let go,” said school board president Doug Ford. “We appreciate what they do every single day.”

School board members asked administrators to consider the options presented and return with a recommendation at the February board meeting.

“There are some options to find funding within the existing budget,” said Brumbaugh. “We’re already deficit spending, but we’d look to shift money, not go further in debt.”

Brumbaugh said staff would use the next few weeks to gather additional information and survey parents regarding the preschool program.

School board members suggested reaching out to charitable organizations within the community to see if funding for preschool would be available.

Brumbaugh said that was an avenue the district planned to explore.