The effort to bring full-day, free kindergarten to Reading has taken another step forward.
By consensus, members of three town bodies – the School Committee, Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee -- agreed Monday to hand the issue to a school building committee.
Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner recommended that he and Superintendent John Doherty; Assistant Superintendent for Finance Mary DeLai; and Town Counsel Brackett and Lucas develop the wording for a warrant article for the upcoming November Town Meeting to form a building committee.
The School Committee would determine when full day kindergarten would be implemented for all students, according to several speakers. That would be unlikely to happen for the 2013-14 school year, Hechenbleikner said. The start of the 2014 school year would be more realistic, he said.
Among the issues: whether to also look at space at the same time for the town’s pre-school RISE program for both special and typical students.
The town’s five elementary schools are squeezed for space, Doherty reiterated in a presentation Monday, not because enrollment is up but because of programs, such as the popular optional full-day kindergarten and special education, and anticipated new programs in science, math and technology.
The School Committee last month directed school administrators to begin the process of implementing full-day kindergarten for all Reading kindergartners.
Procedurally, Town Meeting has to establish a building committee, Hechenbleikner said, and lay out its charge.
Hechenbleikner suggested that the School Department address both full-day kindergarten and pre-school space issues. School Committee member Lisa Gibbs agreed.
The owner of a local pre-school questioned why the school department might expand its pre-school program. That would stress child care businesses in town, said Mary Grimmer, owner of Little Treasures.
As for full-day kindergarten, 80 percent of the almost 700 parents of students in the Reading public schools, from pre-schoolers to high school seniors, said Reading should offer free, full-day kindergarten, Doherty said. A majority of respondents like the option of adding space short term or long term at the students’ home schools.
But consultant Frank Locker of Locker Educational Planning, who presented results of his school space study to the School Committee in June, has said that many of the town’s elementary schools are already squeezed on their sites.
Doherty said he has explored renting school space in town. He declined to elaborate.
Town officials and residents also have to consider two other building projects, several speakers said: the library renovation and addition and work on the Killam Elementary School. The town is waiting for word from the state on both projects.
Town Meeting needs to address two school issues, according to the town manager: funding for the school building committee, to hire an architect, for example and whether any modular classroom space will be needed for the 2013-14 school year. Hechenbleikner recommended against buying or leasing modular space without a long-term plan.