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Fees for full-day kindergarten end; refunds for this year announced

The School Committee ended more than 15 years of paid full-day kindergarten in Arlington on Thursday, Sept. 13. Parents will be told in a letter going out Sept. 14 that refunds for tuition paid so far this school year will be coming soon.

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In a 6-0 vote, with Judson Pierce absent, the committee enthusiastically affirmed the work of a subcommittee led by Bill Hayner that discovered funding changes allowing the fee to be removed.

The rules under which the kindergarten fee is rescinded do not extend to other fees, including those for athletics and music.

"This is really wonderful," said Diane Johnson, the schools' chief financial officer. She led the extensive checking of the numbers after the benefit to Arlington was uncovered earlier this year by Ruthellyn Jacob, a member of the kindergarten subcommittee. That had panel had been looking into how other communities had avoided kindergarten fees.

"It's a dream come true," said Superintendent Kathleen Bodie, who noted the action could not have comer earlier than while the intricacies of Chapter 70 state funding were probed.

The committee's action came after the town Finance Committee voted Wednesday, Sept. 12, to transfer $970,000 from a reserve fund. A Special Town Meeting on Oct. 10 will be asked to vote on the transfer.

Before the Sept. 13 meeting, School Committee member Paul Schlichtman posted on his blog the details about funding that led to these votes.

Since 1997, when full-day kindergarten was established by then Superintendent Kathleen Donovan and her assistant, Joanne Gurry, fees have ranged from $500 to $3,000, the amount for 2012-13.

At the time, Arlington was among the first to establish full-day kindergarten. The town was also among the first to receive the state kindergarten grant.

Bodie said a significant factor is the increase in enrollment in the Arlington public schools. That led to a jump in Chapter 70 fund for this fiscal year of $1.2 million.

Other factors are the town's changing demographics, which include more students receiving free and reduced lunches as well as more English language learners.

The specific reason that led to dropping the fee is this: To figure aid, the state counts full-day kindergarten students as 0.5 if parents pay a fee. If there is no fee, such students are counted as 1.0. When all the math is done, the results makes sense for Arlington.

The PowerPoint presentation to the School Committee Sept. 13 included a video explaining Chapter 70 funding. That video is at this link >>.

Johnson said refunding tuition already paid for this year would be time-consuming, and she asked parents to have patience.

She added that by fiscal 2018, the changes to the formula under which aid to Arlington is computed could add $2 million to the town's bottom line.

This story was first reported Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, and updated the next day.

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