By Greg Phipps
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Kindergarten parents who enroll in the full-day program next school year won’t pay a higher fee than this year’s class after the School Committee agreed last week not to raise the tuition amount.
After a lengthy discussion on whether to increase the yearly full-day tuition rate next year from its present $3,500 cost, the committee, on the recommendation of superintendent Susan Viccaro, voted 5 to 2 to keep the price the same for next year.
Brown School principal Amy Sullivan presented the School Committee with kindergarten tuition figures Monday. She showed the members this year’s numbers, which show 116 families participate in full-day kindergarten and that 80 of those families are paying the full price of tuition. Because of financial and employment hardship, 13 families are paying a reduced rate ranging between $310 and $2,625, and 23 others are receiving free tuition based on critical need.
The city also offers a half-day kindergarten program, which does not have a fee to attend.
Sullivan added that since overall full-day enrollment was down from the previous school year, tuition revenue for this year had slightly decreased to $295,000. She told the board that enrollment is likely to increase next year due, in part, to the up-to-date classrooms and facilities at the new Bresnahan School , which is currently under construction and set for completion next fall. The Brown School is closing its operation after this year and merging with the Bresnahan School.
Asked how Newburyport’s annual tuition rate for kindergarten compares to other districts, Sullivan said the average cost ranges between $2,500 and $3,500 and that “we tend to run on the high side.”
Viccaro cited her reason for motioning to retain the present kindergarten tuition cost and not to increase it.
“I think it’s critical to offer a full-day program that’s affordable for families,” she said. “We want students in the district to come to us at an early age. I think we should leave the tuition at its present rate.”
Mayor Donna Holaday, who chairs the committee, agreed.
“Knowing that we’re already slightly above the curve when it comes to tuition costs, an increase would only add more of a financial burden on families. I think we should hold the tuition as it is,” she said.
“I agree with the superintendent. Getting students into the school system early will only help us in the long run,” added committee member Daniel Koen.
Additional discussion centered around the number of classrooms available and class sizes and what effect kindergarten enrollment might have on next year’s budget. Kindergarten registration for next school year is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Committee members Steven Cole and Nick deKanter voted against the measure, arguing that the issue should be tabled as more information and further discussion was needed before making a final decision.
“We should know for sure what the competitive rate is before registration takes place,” deKanter said. “Of course, we want to make sure we get as many kids as possible into the program and we may be able to keep the cost the same. But we also want to know exactly what our pricing options are.”
Cole referenced the current deficit of close to $60,000 in overall kindergarten revenue, saying it would be advisable to look into the matter more closely before bringing it to a vote.
“We still have tuition money that hasn’t been collected for this year. Given where we stand fiscally, for us to simply vote this in now is not prudent,” he said. “We have good teachers, and we’ll have a top-notch, state-of-the-art facility next year. It’s not unreasonable to consider an increase.”
In other business: Updated 2013-14 school budget estimates were brought forth, showing no changes to the projected $545,000 deficit that was presented at the previous school committee meeting on Dec. 2. An anticipated Chapter 70 education allocation of $161,000 from the state was approved by the City Council earlier this month.