Some parents upset with district’s staffing decision and class sizes
Cedar Grove-Belgium Elementary School’s kindergarten program will operate differently this fall.
Half-day, 5-year-old kindergarten is still offered but rolled into the full-day program in a restructured format.
Half-day hours remain the same, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., and full day runs on the regular school schedule, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.
Principal Jeff Kondrakiewicz notified half-day 5K parents of the change via email on July 8, one day after he and the School Board met for four hours in closed session.
“The details on how all of this will be carried out are still being worked out and plans are being made,” he said in the message.
The program adjustment happened after the School Board in June decided not to replace 4-year-old kindergarten teacher Paula Risseeuw and first-grade teacher Mary Claerbaut. Risseeuw retired and Claerbaut shifted to elementary reading specialist, filling the spot of Mona White, who retired.
Risseeuw urged the board to fill her position at the meeting, saying “4-year-olds are needy,” but the board didn’t approve Kondrakiewicz’s request to fill either position, citing sustained low enrollment at the elementary level and high numbers in middle and high school.
As of June 8, fourth grade had a projected 85 students for next year, while first and third have 68, second has 65 and both 4-K and kindergarten have 54 each.
Three sections in grades one through three would make for 21 to 23 students per class, and four would have 16 to 17.
“The fact is we can meet with how we’ve been teaching with three sections,” Board President Chad Hoopman said.
Hoopman pointed out that this year’s high school graduating class of 77 is the smallest in the next five or six years. The middle and high school are seeing record enrollments.
“It’s our job to look at 4-K through 12,” Hoopman said. “The board knows it will be sitting here next year looking at how to pay for high school teachers for electives.”
With the district receiving $10,000 per student, it will receive nearly $200,000 less in grades one through three than in grade four due to student count, he said.
The new plan calls for two sections of morning 4-year-old kindergarten and one section in the afternoon, three sections of 5-year-old kindergarten and third grade, and four sections of first, second and fourth grade.
Kondrakiewicz in his email to parents said he knows the half-day 5K plan changed from what some parents were told in late June. 5K teacher Jennie Weinhold has since been moved to 4K.
“Please know I understand change is often difficult. These decisions are never easy,” he wrote.
During public comment at the regular, July 13 board meeting, a handful of parents spoke against the new plan, and Risseeuw’s daughter read a letter expressing disappointment in the new kindergarten configuration.
“If my son goes for half day, is he getting the same curriculum?” asked parent Levi Brill. “What do you do with kindergarten kids for half a day if there’s no curriculum to teach? It kind of becomes a day care for the other half day.”
Parent Abbie Meinen said she was frustrated to see the board put its $200,000 budget surplus from 2015-16 toward the fitness center loan instead of maintaining programming.
“It seems like a business decision, not a school decision. These are children, not just numbers,” she said.
Tanya Arentsen said she would like to see smaller class sizes in 4K, and Melissa Krause said she was concerned about 5K classes increasing by 33% and still expecting students to reach academic milestones by first grade.
Hoopman said he valued the parents’ input and reiterated the sustained smaller enrollments in the early grades and the impact it has on the budget.
From an educational standpoint, he said children will have the same quality.
“We are committed to that,” Hoopman said.
The time of a question-and-answer session on the kindergarten design slated for this week was yet to be announced.