Parents of 3-year-olds, rejoice: full-day pre-k is coming to Sag Harbor in the fall.
At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, school budget officer Jennifer Buscemi announced during her budget review presentation that the district would be able to offer a full-day pre-k program, housed at the learning center, in the fall, while staying under the state tax levy cap for the 10th straight year.
It was welcome news for parents, educators and school board members, particularly after a year in which parents across the country struggled mightily during a pandemic that, for varying periods of time, forced them to work from home while simultaneously trying to facilitate online learning for their children, or scramble to find safe and affordable child care.
Superintendent Jeff Nichols said on Tuesday morning that he was happy the district could turn its half-day pre-k program — which operates at no cost to residents — to a free, full-day offering.
“Our initial plan was to do half-day pre-k and half-day day care, but when we examined it further, we realized it just made sense, for various reasons, to go to all day pre-k,” he said. “If you have kids in [full day pre-k] you know there are long-term benefits to that. The fact that we can do it is a huge plus for parents, and we have the facility to do it now.”
Ms. Buscemi pointed out that there would be a slight increase in the budget from her initial projections several weeks ago to account for increased salary for pre-k staff, but reiterated that it would not alter the overall budget plan or cost taxpayers any additional money.
Having more students in the district’s buildings for more hours was a theme at Monday night’s meeting. In his superintendent’s report, Mr. Nichols also reminded the public that high school students started attending class five full days per week on March 1, for the first time in nearly a year. Currently, only 57 of the high school student body population has opted for in-person schooling, with the remaining choosing virtual learning at home. Having nearly half of the student body population still at home has allowed the district to comply with the social distancing standards while offering in-person learning five days a week, although that could change if a higher percentage of students choose to return to in-person schooling, Mr. Nichols said. Whether that will happen will become more clear after the school sees the results of surveys sent out to parents that are due on March 18. But Mr. Nichols added that there are reports that the CDC may soon relax its guidance on social distancing, and move to a 3-foot social distancing recommendation, which would be a game-changer, one that he said would likely allow the school to safely educate nearly its entire high school student body population in person five days per week. Even without that change, Mr. Nichols said he remained hopeful that the district — which has already been doing five-day in person schooling for grades K through 8 — would be able to offer the same to its high school students at least through the month of April.
The outside of the classrooms are seeing increased action as well. Mr. Nichols also pointed out that the “spring I” varsity sports season — which includes traditional fall sports — is underway, with 130 student-athletes in grades nine through 12 currently competing. Spectators are not allowed for girls volleyball, because it is an indoor sport, but outdoor sports are allowing spectators. Spectators for the visiting team are currently being allowed as well, but on a trial basis. Middle school sports are set to begin on March 22.
As part of ongoing budget presentations, Ms. Buscemi reviewed the budget again, noting a few small changes. She also said the district is hoping it will receive more state aid as part of the stimulus package. The legislative budget is due on April 1, and Ms. Buscemi said there will be information about state aid at the Board of Education meeting on April 8.