St. Charles may delay plans to start preschool

Plans to open a preschool in the St. Charles School District might be put on hold until the district can secure funding to pay for the project.

 District officials had hoped to have a preschool open at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year. Now Superintendent Randy Charles says postponing the opening until the 2010-11 school year would give the district time to determine whether it could pay for the project with federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“There may be some unique opportunities that may come up with this whole federal stimulus monies,” Charles said. “We have to be careful about how we spend the new money. One idea that we have to look into is could this money be used to help purchase furnishings for a preschool classroom?”

A district committee comprised of two school board members, kindergarten teachers and community representatives in January recommended the school district apply for grant money from the Missouri Preschool Project.

The grant could provide up to $120,000 a year for a preschool and could be renewed for three years. The school board is scheduled to decide during its meeting Thursday whether to apply for the grant this year. The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. in the district’s Administrative Center, 400 N. Sixth St.

The committee has been researching possibilities for a preschool program since 2006. Members conducted surveys and found that 83 percent of respondents would be interested in a district-sponsored early childhood program.

The target group for the proposed preschool class would be students who speak English as a second language, high-needs families and students from low-income families. Start-up costs for a preschool were estimated at about $89,330.

A teacher salary was estimated at $35,500; a paraprofessional’s salary at $14,850; children’s furniture and administrative equipment for the room was estimated at $7,000; and materials could cost another $1,550. Yearly cost to operate the preschool would be about $72,382 – a large chunk of which would be offset by tuition fees.

The cost to provide transportation could range from about $75,000 for a shuttle run by First Student to $137,000 to operate a district-owned bus. Ultimately, if the district were awarded the grant, it would help pay for some of these costs.

But competition for the grant is high. Jo Anne Ralston, director of early childhood education for the Missouri Department Elementary and Secondary Education, said the department has had more than 50 applicants each year and recently has only been able to award between 8 and 15 new grants. The bid process for this year’s grant will open in late March or early April. Additionally, Ralston said she is still unsure how much funding will be available.

Charles said if the Board of Education decides to apply for the grant, board members would have to plan and budget for it before knowing if they had received the grant.

“There’s also a school of thought that we’re doing a lot of things now… maybe we’d be wiser to spend money on programs we already have in place,” he said.

Board Secretary Wayne Oetting has been pushing the district to implement a preschool program for several years.

 “If they want to put it off another year, well, when it’s something to do with early childhood, it’s something that needs to be really thought out and be really planned,” he said. He said he’d be OK with a delay.

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