Two districts don't plan to offer transitional kindergarten

State legislators may make kingergarten mandatory for all 4-year-olds

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

The bad news for Menlo Park parents whose children will turn 5 between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2 of next year is that neither the Las Lomitas nor Menlo Park City districts plans to offer the transitional kindergarten programs that all other local districts provide.

It turns out that the opinion by the districts' attorneys that the current law isn't really mandatory is also the opinion of the state Legislature's own attorneys.

There is, however, a sliver of hope for these parents. State Democratic legislators have announced that one of their priorities for the 2014-15 budget is to "make transitional kindergarten universal for all 4 year-olds." If the measure is passed early in the session, it could go into effect in time to force the two local districts to offer transitional kindergarten next fall.

Transitional kindergarten is an extra year of kindergarten that currently is offered only to the children affected when the birth date for kindergarten admission was pushed back from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1. A study by the American Institutes of Research found that in 2012, only 4 percent of California districts with any eligible children did not have a two-year kindergarten.

But the two local districts have been advised by their attorneys, who work for the San Mateo County Counsel's office, that the law is not mandatory. "The law doesn't say that it's mandatory," said Eugene Whitlock, San Mateo County deputy county counsel and legal adviser for the Las Lomitas District.

Representatives of both districts say that if the law isn't mandatory, they have higher priorities for spending their money.

According to Menlo Park City School District board member Terry Thygesen, her district's board discussed transitional kindergarten at its December meeting and confirmed it will not continue the program offered for the past three school years. The Las Lomitas Elementary School District has never had a transitional kindergarten program and board president Jay Siegel says it has not been discussed by the board at any recent meetings.

State Senator Jerry Hill says he, along with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, will introduce a bill in January to make the extra year of kindergarten mandatory for all school districts. He also wants to expand the program to include all 4-year-olds, not just the 25 percent who are now eligible, phasing in the program over five years.

Sen. Hill recently told the Almanac that he and other legislators thought the program they approved in 2010 was mandatory. "It was my intent when I voted for it that it would be mandatory," he said adding that he thinks that view was shared by "everyone else in the Legislature."

However, he recently asked the legislative counsel for an opinion on the current law. "It is our opinion that a school district is not required to offer a transitional kindergarten program," the opinion concludes.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, a state senator at the time and author of the Kindergarten Readiness Act, disagrees with the opinion, which he points out "is not a legal determination, it is just an opinion. It has no binding force of law."

What the opinion misses, he says, is the context in which the transitional kindergarten program was created. Transitional kindergarten was designed so that children who under previous state law could have started kindergarten can still begin schooling at the same age, but in the transitional program.

Sen. Hill says the language that makes transitional kindergarten optional was an error in drafting the bill, and "we need to take some action to correct that error, however it was made. It needs to be clarified."

The new bill, Sen. Hill said, is now being drafted and should be introduced early in January. Current plans would call for a class size of 20 students with two teachers. Districts could offer half-day or full-day programs.

The senator acknowledges the program will not be inexpensive. "It would cost about $266 million per year over the five-year phase- in," he said. "It's a lot of money."

However the state's budget is currently showing a surplus and he said he is "optimistic" about the chances of passage for the bill.

"It makes good sense since we know the benefit is there," he said. "We know the investment is a valuable one, and it pays great dividends in the long term, so it makes sense to do it."

The local districts, already bursting at the seams with new students, could have problems finding funding and classrooms for even more students, but Sen. Hill said such issues will be considered. "I'm sure that will be part of discussion as the bill moves forward to see how that can be done," Senator Hill said. "There's ways around both of those."


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Posted by MPCSD Employee
a resident of another community
on Dec 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm

This would be good news for MPCSD employees to know, yes? Maybe if Board Meeting minutes were posted to the district website (as they're supposed to be according to the Brown Act), we'd be able to find out things like this.

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Posted by I Thought Education of All Our Children was Our Highest Priority...
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 27, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Per the Almanac article, “Representatives of both districts say that if the law isn't mandatory, they have higher priorities for spending their money.” Exactly what ARE the priorities that are more important than addressing the needs of the youngest, most vulnerable children in the MPCSD? Did the Board determine their priorities by examining the research on the effects of early intervention for children? It is unconscionable that one of the wealthiest districts in the state, supported by a 3.6 million dollar donation from the Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation in June 2013, has decided to not do everything it can to prepare ALL students for kindergarten. In the long-term, the decision to not provide Transitional Kindergarten will negatively impact our children and will increase District costs to meet the students’ needs from kindergarten through 8th grade.

Apparently, it is not a high priority of Ghysels and the Board to ensure that ALL students are mastering the standards in English-Language Arts and Math. Per the Dataquest website, the MPCSD 2013 STAR scores in English-Language Arts (ELA) for "economically disadvantaged" students indicate that:
-94% of 3rd graders, 45% of 5th graders, and 65% of 7th graders scored Basic, Below Basic or Far Below Basic.
"Non-economically disadvantaged" students’ ELA scores indicate that:
-17% of 3rd graders, 8% of 5th graders, and 7% of 7th graders scored Basic, Below Basic or Far Below Basic

The MPCSD 2013 STAR scores in Math for "economically disadvantaged" students indicate that:
-73% of 3rd graders, 42% of 5th graders, and 80% of 7th graders scored Basic, Below Basic or Far Below Basic.
"Non-economically disadvantaged" students’ Math scores indicate that:
-23% of 3rd graders, 9% of 5th graders, and 15% of 7th graders scored Basic, Below Basic or Far Below Basic.

2013 STAR scores for "economically disadvantaged" students in the Ravenswood School District indicate that:
-In English-Language Arts, 77% of 3rd graders, 58% of 5th graders, and 64% of 7th graders scored Basic, Below Basic or Far Below Basic.
¬In Math, 47% of 3rd graders, 37% of 5th graders, and 76% of 7th graders scored Basic, Below Basic or Far Below Basic.

Our Stanford-educated Board members need to reflect upon the following 2012 San Jose Mercury News editorial written by Deborah Stipek, Dean: School of Education, Stanford University, 2001–2011 and Professor of Education, 2011–present. Per the Stanford website, Dr. Stipek’s scholarship concerns instructional effects on children’s achievement motivation and early childhood education. She is particularly concerned about policies and practices that afford children of color and children living in poverty the educational advantages of their more affluent peers. The Board should schedule a Study Session and invite Dr. Stipek to conduct a presentation regarding the research-based evidence related to the benefits of quality early childhood education.

Transitional Kindergarten has Real Value, Don’t Give it Up
“Without transitional kindergarten, children will be delayed access to formal education by three months, and 125,000 (in California) will lose a whole year. For a 5-year-old, this is a crucial time for laying the foundation for future learning. Research has shown that experience during the first five years of life have long-term effects on children's brains in ways that affect their learning long into their future. And when children enter school, their skills profoundly affect their ability to take advantage of the curriculum.”

The Board should also consider the Center for Public Education’s study,
“Pre-Kindergarten: What the Research Shows”
Many educators are discovering that reform efforts in K–12 education systems are sometimes too little and too late. By the time some children reach kindergarten, they are already far behind their peers in skills and measures of school readiness. These educational gaps tend to be much more difficult and costly to close as children advance through elementary, middle, and high school. This realization has led many states to try to get it right from the start by expanding their financial investments in pre-kindergarten services, with a goal to better prepare young children for school success. With public schools facing heightened accountability requirements, pre-k has emerged as an important strategy to promote school readiness and close achievement gaps in elementary school and beyond.

Those with the pre-k intervention had a higher IQ at ages twelve and fifteen and stronger achievement scores at age fifteen (Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute 2006). By comparison, non-program children were more likely to require special education or be retained in grade, two major costs for schools.

For the past 4 years, the Board supported District efforts to effectively address the significant achievement gap in the District. Per agreements posted in MPCSD’s Agenda Online, from November 2009 through June 2013, the Board approved contracts with the National Equity Project (formerly known as the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools) to provide coaching for staff to improve educational outcomes for the District’s underserved students. The contracts covered a total of 30.5 months at a cost of $238,500. Ghysels and the Board now appear to have lost their zeal for educational equity in the District and have turned their focus to the grand plan for the O'Connor School makeover.

During the past 2 years, Ghysels has repeatedly stated that he is a supporter of early childhood education, and the Board made it clear that they wanted the MPCSD to become a "world class" school district. The decision to not provide Transitional Kindergarten belies Ghysels' proclamations, and it is yet another step in the wrong direction for a Board that wants to preside over a world class district.

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Posted by Expansion Plans
a resident of Laurel School
on Dec 28, 2013 at 7:58 am

The school officials are stewards of our tax dollars. I applaud the Superintendents for allocating their scarce resources toward the priorities that are mandated -- educating the kids that must be at school.

If the nanny state wants to expand the mission of our public schools to include a broader age group, the lawmakers need to implement the funding mechanism first. The only thing I read was that the County has a surplus, so there will be a way to make this work. That's a heads-in-the-sand approach. It really means spend less on the current kids so that the extra kids can attend.

By the way, I've never heard of any mandate that the Government spend every tax dollar on children first and then allocate what's left over to other priorities.

I'm tired of our legislature expanding Government and complaining they don't have enough money after they do so. This pre-Kindergarten idea is yet another example of bureaucratic bloat. If you want your kids to have pre-kindergarten, send them to a private school. Or, move to a district that offers what you want. Apparently, you've landed in the only place in California where this isn't offered.

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Posted by MAtt
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Parents/tax payers in Las Lomitas and Menlo Park City elementary school districts school should realize that their school districts decision to fight transitional kindergarten will end up costing them on the bottom line. Lawyers are expensive, period, and it would appear that the state law will be changed specifically in response to the bull headed actions of your respective school boards. I would hope that the school boards would see that their stubbornness will not prevail, and that the cost effective, and right thing to do, is to comply with the spirit, and soon to be, letter of the law. If not, they are not representing you, or your kids interests by selfishly pursuing a lost cause, and should be promptly removed from their positions.

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Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Dec 29, 2013 at 9:47 am

As a parent with a child affected by this, I do like the idea of offering earlier schooling.

But wow, California Democrats just NEVER learn, do they. After YEARS of deficits, the moment our state budget is no longer billions over budget, they go right back to increasing the taxpayer burdens...again. And keep in mind that not only does California have some of the highest sales and income taxes in the state, Prop 30 passed last year which increased taxes further.

I think both school districts did the right thing: do the best job possible for the kids their currently responsible for, and direct funding towards those kids. The disparaging remarks directed at the school boards for their stance are just ignorant.

That said, if the state government would keep spending under control, reduce our tax burden, and come up with a sustainable financing plan to support transitional kindergarten, I would be totally onboard.

It makes no sense to create this program if it ends up just being taken away during the next budget crisis.

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Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Dec 29, 2013 at 9:53 am

> not only does California have some of the highest sales and income taxes in the state

Er, in the country :)

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Posted by cs
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 3, 2014 at 1:30 am

We are quite upset finding out about the news. We have no idea the decision was made this way. I guess good thing we have not processed out annul donation the school yet. We will reconsider the “wealthy” school districts decision.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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