Boards prep for kindergarten rush

Posted on January 13, 2010 in Education Debates – Ontario/ – Boards prep for kindergarten rush
January 13, 2010.   Kristin Rushowy, Rob Ferguson

Let the registrations begin.

Now that boards across the province know which schools will offer full-day kindergarten this fall, some are turning their attention to how to handle the expected surge in demand for the new program that could save working parents thousands a year in daycare costs for their 4- and 5-year-olds.

An official in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office said after Tuesday’s announcement, which named the almost-600 schools in the first phase, that individual boards must decide what to do if demand exceeds spots. Kindergarten registration revs up this month and next, and lotteries might be an answer.

“We can’t afford to fund all of this instantly,” McGuinty said at an elementary school in Chatham.

“We’d ask those parents to be patient.”

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board already has a detailed plan, calling for a lottery rather than a first-come, first-served system in cases of great demand. Spots would be guaranteed for children with older siblings already at a school that is offering the full-day program. Those who don’t get in will be bused to a half-day spot at another school, at no cost.

If the full day is offered at the local school and parents only want half, their children will have to go elsewhere for kindergarten but can return in Grade 1, said Marianne Mazzorato, superintendent of program.

In York Region, only families living in the district will be eligible for the full day at 25 schools, said spokesman Ross Virgo.

At the Durham District School Board – where kindergarten registration began Tuesday just as the schools were being announced – in the rare case that a school cannot accommodate local children the board will work with the ministry to solve the problem, said superintendent Lisa Millar.

Karen Grose, a system superintendent with the Toronto District School Board, said lotteries are possible, but “the first challenge is to measure the demand for the program.”

Full-day learning will cost the province $500 million in the first two years, rising to an estimated $1.5 billion when it is fully phased in for 240,000 children in 2015.

Critics, however, have said it will cost much more.

Addressing criticism that the province isn’t giving boards enough funds to cover the actual salaries of teachers and early childhood educators – who are to work together to provide the full-day curriculum – McGuinty said that another 3,800 teachers and 20,000 ECEs will be needed but that boards should not end up financially in the hole to hire them.

Both McGuinty and Education Minister Kathleen Wynne on Tuesday called on boards to also offer user-pay summer care and holiday programming for children, which critics have said is the gaping hole in the full-day plan.

“The Premier’s recognition that school boards should offer the summertime extended program is critical,” said Charles Pascal, the province’s early learning adviser.

“Good for kids and cost-effective for parents, and based on a cost-recovery model, it’s a no-brainer for the boards to provide this.”

At Market Lane Public School, parent Maighan MCeary, 26, said her 4-year-old and 3-year-old are ready for the full day. And it comes with an added benefit.

“I can’t wait to get out and find a job,” she said.

With files from Brendan Kennedy

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