2025-26 targeted for full-day kindergarten

The introduction of full-day kindergarten to Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 took another step forward this week, as district board members unanimously voted to begin the initiative, with a projected 2025-26 school year start date.

At its meeting Monday, the board accepted the administration’s recommendation to follow so-called path B to create an ad hoc committee to guide the full-day kindergarten process by studying enrollment projections, surveying families for input and assessing the need to construct additional rooms at the seven elementary schools. The committee would then issue its report in December. Path C, by contrast, would have tasked the administration with developing a plan by April for a 2024-25 start.

Superintendent Hector Garcia told board members that allowing a committee to conduct due diligence on the project is the more prudent route.

“We don’t want to get into a situation where we end up building one or two more classrooms ... and then five years from now we all of a sudden have a spike in the number of students coming to our school district and not enough facilities,” Garcia said. “We feel that path B will give us enough time to engage a demographer, ensure community and staff involvement beyond the survey, and avoid having anyone see this as a rushed process on such an important issue.”

Some board members expressed hope the time line could be accelerated having heard from families eager to enroll their children. Both board President Michael Martin and board member Sheetal Rao inquired about possible temporary solutions during the construction process.

“I know that so many people in the community are looking for a sooner opening,” Rao said. “Is there a happy medium in there somewhere?”

“A short-term option is something that we would certainly consider,” Garcia replied.

Last month officials estimated that the cost of building a new classroom at each school could run up to $37 million, with an annual operating cost of $4.4 million. On Monday, Garcia said that was a “back of the napkin” projection and that firmer figures would not be known until designs are completed.

Rick Engstrom, assistant superintendent of business and operations, said a referendum would not be necessary.

“Our debt margin currently is approximately $134 million, so there are other options that we could finance this project,” Engstrom said.

Board member Margie Kleber asked if the schools are able to accommodate such work.

“We feel good about the current state of our facilities and the ability to add, if we needed to,” Garcia said.

Martin said the long-term impact that full-day kindergarten presents for the district warrants a comprehensive analysis.

“If we go with the ad hoc committee, they’re going to study all possible options on how to implement this,” he said.

Garcia said the district would reach out to residents and staff members to serve on the committee.

“We would try to get a cross section, knowing that this is one of two components (along with the survey) where the community would have say in it,” he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean