Carroll County school board members voted yesterday to delay the first phase of a four-year plan to offer state-mandated full-day kindergarten to all 5-year-olds by the 2007-2008 school year.
The decision, which the five-member panel approved unanimously, means parents will not be able to enroll children in all-day programs before the 2005-2006 school year. Full-day programs will remain unchanged at three county elementary schools with large populations of disadvantaged families.
"Until the state makes a full commitment on which way they're heading on this, I would hate, for the community's sake, to start heading down a path and then have to reverse course," board member Laura K. Rhodes said at the meeting.
With four bills moving through the General Assembly that would eliminate or delay the state's deadline for instituting all-day kindergarten, Carroll school officials said they are hesitant to spend money on and enroll children in a program that might not be required.
At last week's budget hearing, the school board cut the $535,230 that would have begun phasing in all-day programs at the county's 21 elementary schools this summer. The money would have paid for 6 1/2 teaching positions, five instructional assistants, and furniture and equipment to start or expand full-day kindergarten programs at Cranberry Station, Elmer Wolfe, Robert Moton, Taneytown and William Winchester elementary schools.
Administrators selected those schools for the first phase of the plan because the buildings have enough space to offer all-day kindergarten to all children.
The second phase, still scheduled for summer 2005, would add Friendship Valley in Westminster, Parr's Ridge in Mount Airy and Winfield Elementary to the list of schools offering all-day kindergarten. Those three schools also do not need additional space.
The remaining 13 elementary schools - many of which need more classrooms before they can double their kindergarten programs - are scheduled to phase in all-day kindergarten in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years.
Yesterday's decision will not affect all-day programs at three county elementary schools - William Winchester and Robert Moton in Westminster, and Taneytown Elementary. For nearly three years, teachers at those schools have more than doubled the typical kindergarten day - from 2 1/2 hours to six hours - for their neediest children. All three schools have large populations of children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
Superintendent Charles I. Ecker recommended that the board delay the phase-in plan partly because parents are scheduled to begin signing up their children for kindergarten next month.
"It wouldn't be fair to say we're going to do one thing," Ecker said last week, referring to registering kindergartners for all-day classes, "and then do another."
In other business, school board members learned yesterday that they will likely have to cut $2.7 million from their $244.1 million budget request. County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, a Republican, told the board that the county does not have that much money to allocate to the school system.
Of the $2.7 million gap between the school board's request and the county's projected allocation, she said, "That's more than what the county is going to have extra in total."