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4K OK'd for Janesville

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 11, 2007
— Emotions ran high Monday as Janesville joined the majority of Wisconsin school districts that offer a universal 4-year-old kindergarten program.

The Janesville School Board voted 6-3 to start the program next September.


Dennis Vechinsky, a longtime opponent, said the issue had “ripped me apart.” He switched sides and voted for the program.


DuWayne Severson, who always has opposed 4K, accused the administration of manipulating information about it.


4K supporter Tim Cullen said misinformation was circulating in the community as the vote neared.


Speakers also addressed the board, some passionately, both for and against the program.


While the vote has been taken, questions remain, including:


Will 4K tear the family and society apart, at taxpayer expense, as Bill Sodemann suggested?


Or will it level the playing field to give underprivileged children the same chance as their peers at finding success in school, as proponents have argued?


Sodemann offered an amendment to the motion, that the district study the test-score impact three years after it starts. The motion failed for lack of a second.


Superintendent Tom Evert said the program would not affect the local tax levy.


But isn’t it true that the increased enrollment of 4-year-olds means the board will be able to increase the tax levy, Sodemann asked?


True, Evert said, but the board would not be required to raise taxes in order to fund the program.


The added enrollment also will mean an increase in state aid.


Sodemann said he doubted the board would refrain from raising taxes to the maximum allowed by law.


Severson suggested the administration had held back information. He noted that the district had brought in education theorist Leonard Sax last year to talk about single-gender classrooms, and a pilot program is under way at Marshall Middle School as a result.


Sax also opposes putting boys in school until age 6, Severson said, but that information was never given to the board.


In a letter to the board, Judy Ronzani, director of a Christian preschool, said she had talked to Sax, and he told her he opposes 4K.


So either there was a cover-up of information from a respected educator, or the board was sold a bill of goods on single-gender education, Severson said.


Severson said he doubted 4K would do what it’s supposed to: Improve behavior and academic performance and provide a way for children to leverage themselves out of poverty.


“Fool’s gold is what it is,” Severson said. “We think this is going to work. We don’t really know.”


Lori Stottler countered: “I believe the administration, and I believe the data I’m being given.”


Cullen argued strenuously that the board has an obligation to do what it can to prepare children for school.


Todd Bailey ticked off reasons he questioned the program—including whether the people it’s intended to help will sign up. In the end, he voted yes.


Vechinsky questioned whether 4-year-olds were ready for such a program, but he said he’s seen the problem behaviors of some 5-year-olds in kindergarten.


“I’m for kids. That’s what it’s about,” Vechinsky said as he explained how he arrived at “yes.”


Now, the school district administration must ready a program for September 2008. It will be different from all other district programs, as it will involve private preschools and other outside agencies such as Head Start.


The district’s federally funded pre-kindergarten program will continue to take 4-year-olds, and the district might add 4K classes if needed.


“The first thing will be to contact all of the preschools in the community to find out who’s on board for next year so that we can get an accurate number of how many places are going to be available for students,” director of instruction Donna Behn said after the meeting.


The district also will have to work to inform parents about the program, Behn said. Later, parents will be given lists of their preschool options, and there will be a sign-up period.


How they voted

Janesville School Board members voting to start a 4-year-old kindergarten program in Janesville were Todd Bailey, Tim Cullen, Debra Kolste, Lori Stottler, Amy Rashkin and Dennis Vechinsky.


Voting against were Kevin Murray, DuWayne Severson and Bill Sodemann.



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