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Those who owe for all-day kindergarten face deadlines

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As officials report improvement in debt collection from parents of all-day kindergartners, those who have not yet paid must do so, or provide proof why they can't, or their children were dismissed at 11 a.m. beginning Jan. 30 at the Bishop School.

Starting that day, Chief Financial Officer Diane Johnson said, schools officials began excluding from classrooms after 11 a.m. the children of parents who have not paid. In effect, the change would enroll students in a half-day kindergarten program, which the schools also offer.

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On Dec. 22, 49 families had declined to pay or provide proof of financial need for all-day kindergarten. By Jan. 10, the number had dropped to 33 families, amounting to an outstanding debt of $81,090, after Johnson sent a letter to parents.

By Friday, Jan. 13, additional payments had come in, so the number unpaid had dropped below 33, Johnson wrote in an email that day.

After the pressure to collect the debt begins at Bishop, it continues at Brackett on Jan. 31, Dallin on Feb. 1, Hardy on Feb. 2, Peirce on Feb. 3 and Stratton and Thompson on Feb. 6.

The next step parents face is a deposit of 10 percent of the total cost for full-day kindergarten classes.

Asked when that would begin, Johnson wrote:

"Our plan is to request a 10% deposit or full documentation supporting a request for financial need at the time of registration in the spring.

"There is no 'billing' process for fees in Arlington. Parents have the option of paying in full at the outset of their fee based program, or paying installments over time via a credit card.

"At the time of enrolling in a fee-based program, we ask all parents to sign a promissory note, committing to the payment plan of their choice. No further 'bills' are issued.

"Credit card payments are deducted according to the payment plan schedule automatically. This has been the practice since before I came here in 2009."

Last April 26, during budget discussions, as the schools faced a large deficit, the School Committee began considering a letter to parents and sought legal advice about how to collect an estimated $85,000 in overdue payments. Of that debt, $61,000 came from kindergarten programs.

Superintendent Kathleen Bodie told the School Committee on Thursday, Jan. 12, that English and math are available in half-day programs.

School Committee member Leba Heigham expressed concern over the 11 a.m. drop-off time not working for some parents, possibly resulting in children waiting by themselves.

Bodie said there would always be school staff around while children wait for parents.

Advisory committee established

On a motion from the budget subcommittee, the committee voted, 7-0, to recommend to the full School Committee to move to assemble an advisory committee on kindergarten fees, by March 31, 2012.

It is to be composed of eight members plus one School Committee member: one elementary school principal, one district administrator, two teachers and four parents, with preference given to current or future kindergarten parents and school diversity.

The committee is to be charged with reviewing the cost and benefits of full-day kindergarten, acceptance of the kindergarten grant and structures by which other communities offer full-day kindergarten. It is to report back to the School Committee by no later than the last meeting in May 2012.

The committee also voted, 7-0, to propose a warrant article to Town Meeting to amend a Town Bylaw, Title I Article 21, to include kindergarten and other fees among those listed for municipal liens.

This story was reported Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, and updated two days later to include a vote on an advisory panel and other information.

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