Howland addresses kindergarten

HOWLAND – School officials are hoping a levy on the May ballot will help cover the $500,000 needed to implement all-day kindergarten in the district. It also means postponing plans to close the North Road Intermediate School building.

Without passage of the 10-year, 3.9-mill emergency operating levy, Howland will be the only school district in Trumbull County to have half-day kindergarten.

Superintendent John Sheets and other officials addressed about 75 residents Monday at the State of the Schools Forum held at Howland Middle School. With Champion schools planning to offer all-day kindergarten in the 2014-15 school year, Howland doesn’t want to be the only district left out.

”We have heard a lot of support and feedback for all-day kindergarten. We need to make sure we have the space in those school buildings and not have to put children in modular classrooms,” Sheets said.

The district is postponing an elementary reconfiguration plan which would have involved three of the four elementary and intermediate school buildings for kindergarten to fifth grades. Plans were to have separate grade-level buildings for kindergarten and first, another for second and third, and a third for fourth and fifth.

Sheets said if all-day kindergarten is implemented, North Road Intermediate School, which would have been closed under the plan, needs to stay open since 10 units of kindergarten would be needed to be housed in more than one building.

He said Howland Springs could not house 10 sections of kindergarten and 10 sections of first grade in addition to auxiliary support classes.

”We need to have the adequate space for all-day kindergarten and for our educational academic programming. We will revisit the reconfiguration later, probably a year from now,” he said.

Resident Justin Kaszowski, a parent of a young child, said he is concerned that his child and others attend all-day daycare and preschool, and then would attend a half-day kindergarten with less instruction time once they got to school.

”Going from all day and then to half-day kindergarten is not to any child’s advantage,” Kaszowski said.

Resident David Cracium asked how much the district would be saving if it closed North Road school. Sheets said it would be around $500,000, including the elimination of a principal and support staff. Teaching staff would not be cut since there would be the same number of students.

Also starting next year are plans for the transitioning high school juniors in the 2014-15 year and both juniors and seniors in the 2015-16 year to attend Trumbull Career and Technical Center, with plans for 50 students from each grade. Howland students now attend vocational school in Ashtabula County.

The benefits to many students would be to receive training from a local provider for vocational readiness, he said.

Sheets said passage of the levy is needed to strengthen learning, update textbooks, maintain programs, replace buses, add technology as well as enhance safety and security.

Board President Warner Bacak said the district has been asking its employees to do more with less.

”We can’t move education forward with more cuts. Money is the resource that will help us get what we need to grow,” he said, noting already 37 positions have been cut.

The forum also addressed the district’s financial situation.

”Academically, we are doing well and can always improve. Financially, we have been spiraling downward. We need to provide the technology and resources to strengthen learning. We need to have the revenue to do this,” Sheets said.

School Treasurer Thomas Krispinsky said the state has reduced $560,000 per year in reimbursement for tangible personal property tax for the district, which has resulted in the district receiving $27.5 million this past year compared to $29.3 million in 2011.

Krispinsky said in his more than 20 years as a treasurer in Howland, most recently the district lost another $400,000 as the valuation went down on property tax went down and some properties given tax exemptions.

”Because of these factors, we have lost $3 million in the past two years,” he said.

The five-year forecast has the district $12 million in the hole by 2018, Krispinsky said.

”Passage of the levy in May will help make our district a very financially viable one,” he said.

Officials said plans are also for placing a 4.9-mill renewal levy on the November ballot which generates $2.5 million.

Officials said the district has lost 250 students to open enrollment and charter schools which means less money.

To prepare for online testing, new technology is needed for grades third and fourth who are taking a technology class. The third graders will be taking the ”Third Grade Reading Guarantee” test to reading at their grade level in order to advance to fourth grade.

Kaszowski said he was concerned with so much testing mandated by the state that keeps changing.