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Elmbrook School Board Puts 4K on the Back Burner

The earliest Elmbrook would add 4-year-old kindergarten program would be the 2013-14 school year, but that discussion will not occur until the fall.

Despite the superintendent's pleas to craft an acceptable 4-year-old kindergarten program for the 2013-14 school year, the Elmbrook School Board Tuesday decided to pull 4K from board discussion until the fall.

While the board did not vote Tuesday, members Glen Allgaier, Kathryn Wilson, Jean Lambert and Meg Wartman each said they did not want to schedule a board session on 4K or spend resources creating a 4K program during the remainder of this school year.

Superintendent Matt Gibson urged 4K adoption as part of a task force's recommendations to solve the district's budget challenges amid declining resident enrollment.

The recommendations called for cutting expenses — by closing an elementary school and increasing class sizes, and increasing revenues by adding 4-year-old kindergarten and boosting open enrollment, Gibson said.

Doing the painful cuts without adding 4K will feel like a betrayal to some residents, particularly those whose children are being redistricted after Hillside closes at the end of this year, he said.

However, the board already has rejected the package approach, deciding to close a school but significantly cut the growth of open enrollment.

Gibson urges compromise

Gibson, who is retiring in June, encouraged the board to hold a work session to find a compromise 4K program — perhaps in two schools instead of five, with fewer teachers, thereby cutting the costs.

"Try to make it your own — to fashion it in a way that it might work for you," he said.

But the board did not bite on his request.

"I feel like we have spent a lot of time talking about this already," Allgaier said. "I don't have any interest in talking about it anymore ... this school year."

Wilson, Lambert and Wartman agreed, with Wartman noting the board's to-do list yet this year was lengthy.

"I would agree there is board support to look at it for 2013-14," she said, adding she personally would need more questions answered in order to support it.

Board President Tom Gehl has said he because resident families are asking for it.

Board member Bob Ziegler said he was "disappointed that we are where we are with (4K)."

Board member Dick Brunner did not speak on the issue.

Those opposed to adding 4K say there is not evidence that it provides a lasting academic benefit, while it increases the local property tax burden.

Election challengers support 4K

Lambert and Wartman are seeking new board terms, and their April 3 election challengers each said after the meeting they support 4K and wished to see more momentum to adding the program.

"It's disappointing that that's their choice," said Lynne Thomas, who is contesting Wartman for re-election. But she added, "I'm hopeful there might be support for it next year."

Paul Byrne, who is running for Lambert's board seat, said he was heartened that the board decided not to take a formal vote against 4K Tuesday.

"No vote is better than a vote 'no,'" he said. "It wasn't killed, so that's better than nothing."

Trish Ormsby February 15, 2012 at 04:26 AM
Unbelievable. When will the school board get it together and put 4K in the schools?
Libby Wistrom February 15, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Parents pushing to adopt 4K are extremely short-sighted. By the District's own admission, adding 4K will only temporarily alleviate budget shortfalls. Even then, the District may be forced to approach the community with an Operational Referendum. Then what? How much community support will an OE receive if we squander what little resources we do have on a program (like 4K) which has no demonstrated impact on OUR students' education? Parents' desires for 4-year old educational opportunities for their children are already being met by our local preschool and daycare providers - and they appear to be doing a stellar job at it! They attract an overwhelming majority of our residents, and the students are arriving into the Elmbrook system well-prepared for 5K. There is simply no evidence that this needs to be switched to a taxpayer-funded program. Furthermore, there has been no evidence presented to indicate that our community is suffering (losing residents) without publicly-funded 4K.
Libby Wistrom February 15, 2012 at 01:26 PM
With that being said, I applaud the Board for focusing on what our student body truly needs, instead of catering to the short-sighted "wants" of a select group. Shame on Dr. Gibson for his willingness to support a potentially expensive program which has demonstrated NO educational benefit for the students of Elmbrook - all because he hopes it "might" be a money-maker. (Btw, this was the same rhetoric we heard when there was the push for full-day 5K. Here we are...9 years later...with still no proof as to whether full-day 5K had any positive impact on our budget OR on the quality of education we provide. What we DO know is that adopting full-day 5K brought additional teaching staff, salaries and benefits - all of which contribute to our current budget woes.)
Libby Wistrom February 15, 2012 at 07:32 PM
thomdg, Unfortunately, you, the district, and even the EMST offer no data to suggest that adding 4K will, in fact, improve our stagnant enrollment by attracting new students. Certainly, the EMST "hopes" it "might"...but is that reason enough to add a program which could prove to be a drain on our resources, or - worse yet - a deterrent to passing a future Operational Referendum? There are many programs we could adopt which "might" attract new students. Is publicly-funded 4K, without a doubt, the most crucial of them all? I believe the answer is "no" - especially when you consider that an overwhelming majority of our students already benefit from some type of 4-year old educational experience by participating in local preschool or daycare programs. (I challenge your contention that adding 4K would "increase average test scores by 18 percent 3 years later. Those are the lasting effects, we expected to see from a half-day 4K program." Research, and our district's own (minimal) data, seems to indicate nothing of the sort. If you have evidence otherwise, I would be interested in seeing it.)
Libby Wistrom February 15, 2012 at 07:33 PM
As for eliminating programs which do not impact learning, I would whole-heartedly agree that if cuts need to be made...those are the areas to begin. I would disagree with your classification of second language learning and the arts being included in that category, however. Again, I would offer that research generally suggests benefits of each. As for extra-curricular programs like football and soccer...I have no problem with the district shifting the cost to the users. It certainly would not be the first time that has occurred. In summary, the district simply has not made a case to explain why 4K needs to become a publicly-funded program in our community. An overwhelming majority of our students are already choosing to utilize one of the many programs offered within the community to meet the need, and our students are coming into the Elmbrook schools well-prepared for 5K.
Libby Wistrom February 15, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Weird. What happend to your comments, Thomdg?
Concerned Citizen February 15, 2012 at 09:12 PM
I just read where Elmbrook is being sued for violating Title 19 rights of female high school students to have the same sports opportunities as males. We just spent over $ 60 million dollars on upgrading the high schools, much of that to add and upgrade the athletic facilities. If this lawsuit is successful, EBSD will have to spend more for athletic programs for females, or discontinue all athletic programs. We all know that will never happen, so be prepared for more millions to be spent paying lawyers and complying with decisions. In addition, we are paying for defense of a decision to have graduations held in churches, with that lawsuit advancing in the court system. None of this helps the academics. I think spending should be on a lockdown for at least several years until we can catch up on all the bills we've run up recently for school buildings and unexpected expenses like lawsuits.
Lisa Sink (Editor) February 15, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Did something disappear?
Libby Wistrom February 15, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Yes - 2 comments from a reader named Thomdg directed at my first two posts.
Libby Wistrom February 15, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Winegirl, I echo your concerns.
Lisa Sink (Editor) February 15, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Didn't see them, don't know what happened. Thomdg, if you see this, feel free to repost.
thomdg February 15, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Sorry, I took my comments down because they were a little too snarky. I was simply trying to point out that: 1) There are many programs that we support that have no clearly measurable educational benefits (music,art, languages, sports etc) yet are worth supporting. 2) As a person who uses stats at work, I would point out that the sample size of the 4K "experiment" was limited and the measures they used to determine effectiveness were flawed. First, the sample size was so small, they could only detect a large difference between 4k and not 4k. This does not mean that no difference could be found... simply that large differences cannot be found. (To the mathletes out there... they were powered to detect an 18% difference with a 80% power and an alpha of 0.05; To the regular folks, that is a two letter grade difference 3 years after the experience in 4K) To expect such dramatic results from a half day program in an upper/middle income community is setting an unrealistic goal for the program and creates a hurdle that guarantees failure. I would argue that NO academic program in the district makes that large of a difference after 3 years. 3) Some surprising things buried in the districts 4K data. - Private 4k made "no difference" either - 11% of the kids in Elmbrook 4k qualify for reduced school lunch - Less than 30% of kids in Brookfield went to private 4K (not "an overwhelming majority")
Lisa Sink (Editor) February 15, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Thanks! Great to see your thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time to re-post.
Libby Wistrom February 16, 2012 at 12:51 AM
thomdg - The "overwhelming majority" attending a PRIVATE 4-year old program (be it daycare, preschool, or a "4K") is when a PUBLIC 4K option does not exist. (Wish there was an underline function for emphasis.) In other words - an overwhelming majority of kids in Brookfield/Elm Grove have some sort of 4-year old educational experience. The district's report, however, was specifically looking at kids who are currently in the 3rd grade. Therefore, it must be taken into consideration that a portion of those students chose to attend the district's 4K pilot program instead of a private 4K. As I recall, there was also a portion that could not be accounted for either way. Therefore, while your statement that "Less than 30% of kids in Brookfield went to a private 4K" seems to imply that we have a large number of kids not attending some type of programming at the age of 4, this is not correct. Unlike 4K (or Head Start) programs serving inner-city or low-income populations, we are not dealing with children who will have no academic-readiness experiences without a publicly-funded 4K option. (For this, we can all be thankful.) Trends have shown that without an Elmbrook 4K, parents will still choose to provide this experience for their children - but on their own dime.
Libby Wistrom February 16, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Your note that "private 4K made 'no difference' either" supports my position that programming for 4-year old students in our community should be considered a nicety, and not a necessity when it comes to academic readiness or future academic achievement. Knowing this, are we willing to say to our taxpayers, "4K is an ESSENTIAL program for our students...THIS is THE MOST IMPORTANT use of our district funds right now, and that is why we need your additional tax dollars?" If the answer is no - and I believe it is - then adopting such a program simply because parents "want" it would be a misuse of what little resources we currently have.
thomdg February 16, 2012 at 06:22 AM
Libby, It is unlikely I will ever convince you of the merits of 4K. But I would like to correct some facts. 1) Daycare and preschool are not equivalent 2) District data* shows that in 2010-11, 151 kids were enrolled in private 4k. and in 2011-12, 132 kids were in private 5K and 357 were in public 5k. 151/489 is 30.8%, meaning ~70% did NOT attend 4K. While these are estimates, they are far from an "overwhelming majority." If you have data that demonstrates otherwise please share it. 3) As I stated in my previous posts, measuring performance on tests in 3rd grade is an inappropriate measure of the success of 4k. Most studies that demonstrate the benefits of 4-5k focus on poor kids and give them a full day program. Even then, the measures of effectiveness were not IQ and test scores. The 4K kids did better school and in life (earning 25% more in adulthood). To use test scores in 3rd grade as a measure of success is to create an UN-ACHIEVABLE benchmark that simply provides an excuse to not have the 4K. 4) The district data* found the 4K program attracted students from the private 4K and that these students STAYED in public school. This is great because it boosts resident enrollment with kids from motivated families. This can only enrich the experience for all kids in our schools. *http://www.elmbrook.k12.wi.us/display/displayFile.aspx?docid=11715&filename=/User/chetneyc/Enrollment_Management_Team/February_17/Private_Parochial_Historical_Information.pdf
Libby Wistrom February 16, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Thomdg, I believe I have identified the discrepancy in our communications. The document you link to is tracking enrollment at our local "private" schools which also provide education for students older than 4 (5-12) - specifically Brookfield Academy (K3-12) Amy Montessori (ages 2 1/2-5), and our many local parochial schools (which offer programs ranging from K3-12). ( You can see this when you scroll down further into the document.) This document also shows students who report that they are "home schooled," although it is not clear if the data includes students homeschooled at ages 3 and 4. What the document does NOT track (and where I believe your misinterpretation of the data begins) are the "private" preschool programs and daycares offering nothing for students beyond the age of 4. Creative Preschool, Wauwatosa Nursery School, Eichers Kids, All 'Bout Learning And Children's Edu-Care are several of the more popular choices. I included these programs in my definition of "private" because they are not funded by the tax-payers. They are funded by those who utilize them. The data you cite is not meant to imply that 70 percent of our students attend nothing. The 4-year old programs they attended simply were not included because there is nothing offered beyond the age of 4, and therefore no concern that students will remain in those programs for 5K instead of entering the Elmbrook system.
Libby Wistrom February 16, 2012 at 03:59 PM
As for your contention that daycare and preschool are not equivalent, I beg to differ.  A quick check of the websites of local daycare centers will show that most (if not all) offer a "4K" program for 4-year old children in attendance.  Furthermore, if you look at the stated "goals" of Elmbrook's proposed 4K curriculum, you will find that they are generally the same as skills addressed in most 4-year old programs - be it a daycare, preschool, or "4K".   http://www.elmbrookschools.org/index.php?option=com_rubberdoc&view=doc&id=1312&format=raw Finally, I would like to address your incorrect assumption that I find no merits to educational opportunities for 4-year olds (or what you refer to as "4K".) I have never stated that I find no merits of 4K.  What I have stated is that research has shown little to no long-term, educational impact of formal "4K" programming for students in our socio-economic demographic.  With this in mind, there is no pressing educational "need" for our district to implement a program.  Furthermore, educational opportunities for 4-year olds are already readily available in our community, and are being willingly utilized by our families.  There is simply no reason to shift the funding for such programming to the taxpayer.

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