USD No. 113 School Board denies Wetmore preschool request
A knotted vote and resulting failed motion signaled what appears to be the end of discussion regarding a request to add a preschool program at Wetmore Academic Center.
At the Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education meeting held Thursday, June 15, the board heard more information and held discussion about the Wetmore preschool request. This was the third consecutive regular meeting at which the request had been discussed, but this time Superintendent Todd Evans told the board that “a decision needs to be made about this issue.”
WAC Principal Janelle Boden presented to the board the request to add a preschool program at Wetmore Elementary School. Both Sabetha Elementary School and Axtell Elementary School have preschool programs available, while WES does not.
Boden presented a sample schedule, in which WAC has incorporated numerous changes for the 2017-18 school year to save money, integrate classrooms and incorporate the MTSS Walk to Intervention time, as well as to hopefully add a preschool program.
At the high school, Boden suggested integrating the shop courses previously contracted from Jackson Heights High School into the schedule of current teacher Jesse Hutfles, who expressed a willingness to add those courses and give up his planning period.
Additionally, Boden integrated third and fourth grade science, social studies, writing and MTSS intervention for math and reading, allowing WES to absorb one teaching position. These two changes would save WAC approximately $50,000, Boden said.
Finally, Boden suggested that the preschool program could be integrated into the kindergarten classroom in the mornings. Current teacher Anissa Bloom had agreed to this change, and provided a tentative schedule for the integrated preschool and kindergarten classroom. This, therefore, would allow the program to be added at no additional staff cost.
Boden said the program would have one-time expenses of approximately $1,500 for tables, chairs, etc. This would be in addition to ongoing transportation costs, as the board had voted earlier this year to begin transporting preschool students to their homes or daycares following morning preschool.
When asked Monday, June 19, whether there could have been any hidden ongoing costs in regard to adding the preschool program, Superintendent Evans said the curriculum and learning materials would also have been at a cost to the district. Evans said the district is doing new curriculum for preschool students this year, so it would have involved adding units.
Boden said initial requests for interest found that there were at least five students interested for the 2017-18 school year, and 12 for the 2018-19 school year.
“I really honestly believe it is only going to grow from here,” Boden said. “It is a win-win, adding minimal expenses and gaining phenomenal results.”
Evans started the board discussion by clarifying that a preschool program at WES would only be available to 4-year-old students who qualify for at-risk funding, or students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Board Member Kathy Lippert said, at the May meeting, it was mentioned that adding a preschool program at WES could cause complications in regard to special education preschool.
If a preschool program would be added at Wetmore and there were any students who had an IEP, Evans said, it is his understanding that Donna Elder — who provides special education preschool services at SES and AES — would be required to travel to Wetmore one morning a week.
She previously only traveled to Axtell one morning per month, but Evans said it is his understanding that this also will need to become one morning a week. Therefore, if a program were added at Wetmore, Elder would spend two mornings per week at SES, and one each at AES and WES.
Evans told The Herald on Monday that he intends to further investigate this issue to determine for certain what the requirements are in regard to time spent at AES, and in the event that preschool is ever added at Wetmore, at WES.
Evans said Elder had told him that she would be willing to do that, because she is “very committed to early childhood education.”
An additional complication, Evans clarified, is that the addition of a preschool program with any IEP students also would have to be approved by the Holton Special Education Cooperative. However, he did not believe this would be an issue as long as it did not incur any additional costs for the cooperative.
Lippert asked where Wetmore students previously had attended preschool. Boden said that, during the 2016-17 school year, two special education students came to Sabetha. A few other preschool students went to Jackson Heights or Vermillion, she said.
Board Member Ed Reznicek said that he believes not offering preschool at Wetmore limits the number of students who have reasonable access to preschool. At a previous board meeting, Boden had noted that many students enter kindergarten at WES with no preschool education.
Lippert said that it was her understanding that Wetmore students can attend preschool at SES — either the special education preschool if they have an IEP, or the at-risk preschool is they qualify — and that the students would be bused to Sabetha.
Evans told the board that Sabetha’s at-risk preschool is already full this year. Also in April and May, the board had been presented with a request to expand the at-risk preschool at SES as a result of the number of applicants. This request was presented in April and denied in May.
Just as it appeared another question was going to be asked by Lippert, Board Member Jeff Demint made a motion to approve the WES preschool program for the 2017-18 school year. The board voted 3-3, thus failing for lack of majority. In favor were DeMint, Reznicek and Kent Kuckelman. Opposed were Lippert, Jim Scoby and Leslie Scoby.
Board Member Kent Saylor was not present at the meeting. He was supposed to be back from vacation, but delayed flights prevented him from being back in time. When asked on Monday morning, June 19, about the meeting — particularly the preschool issue — Saylor said he believed the issue was important and he had wanted to be there to ask questions and cast a vote.
Saylor said he is not sure how he would have voted, but that he is gathering information at this time to determine whether, in his opinion, the request was thoroughly presented and considered. He said he plans to sit down with Superintendent Evans later this week to get more details.
See full minutes from the School Board’s June 15 meeting on Page 5B of this week’s Herald.
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Amber Deters is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2005. She specializes in school board, election and legislative reporting, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Amber is a 2005 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, print journalism sequence. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.