Written by Rich Forestano Thursday, 06 February 2014 00:00
Universal pre-k is at the forefront of American education, so much so that President Barack Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union last week. Mineola School Board President Artie Barnett indicated that the school district is preparing for a mandated full-day pre-k program.
Mineola currently holds a five-day, half-day program for September 2014 and is open to expanding it, should a full slate curriculum be implemented. However, selection into the class is lottery-based. Barnett feels full-time pre-k “is coming down the track.”
“The idea is on the front burner [in the state legislature],” he said. “Also, following the State of the Union address, the president [mentioned it as well]. Whether [the program] will transform into a full-day, five-day program, I don’t know. But I think we have to prepare for it.”
School District Superintendent Michael Nagler feels Mineola could be a model for struggling school communities, particularly New York City, which is trying to adapt pre-k initiatives. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently argued that State Education Commissioner John King’s estimated $1.6 billion yearly cost to fund universal pre-k as a reason to hike taxes on the rich. This is something Governor Andrew Cuomo has been reluctant to support. Nagler said he’d have to hire new instructors at lower salaries for the pre-k program.
“We can show New York City certainly, in how you afford these things,” Nagler said. “We had good negotiations and our teachers union was really at the forefront of this. This is not an easy thing for a union to do, saying ‘we can have a lesser salary for pre-k teachers because it’s a non-mandated program.”
While cost is an issue, educators feel the program is necessary to facilitate consistent learning among students.
“The union and I believe it’s very important for children to have,” Nagler said. “They treat it as an entry level job kind of...those teachers if we hired them, get the inside track to a future probationary spot.”
However, space is the main concern to Barnett and Nagler. Class size has been a hotly-debated topic among residents and school officials.
“I think we’re ahead of the game,” Barnett said. “Certainly, space would be the biggest issue.”
Nagler feels the salary offset will help ease the transition into a full pre-k schedule.
“Programs cost money,” Nagler said. “And when you’re able to bring in a program like this at a lesser salary, it’s doable. So for us, as we retire eight people this year, I’m very comfortable that we can propose this in our budget to expand the program for less money.
The only problem will have in the future is a space issue.”