Pembroke scales back preschool

November 29, 2018

PEMBROKE — The Pembroke school district is ending its full-day preschool for now because of budget considerations, its superintendent said Tuesday.

Instead, the school will run two sessions of half-day preschool, which upset some parents. The change, which the school board recently approved, takes effect in January.

Each year, the district, where two-thirds of students come from low-income families, receives about $230,000 in state money for preschool. According to the district, 97 percent of that money goes for the salaries and benefits for two teachers and two teacher aides.

The remaining 3 percent is not nearly enough to pay for everything else for the program, including transportation, supplies and instructional materials, Superintendent Marcus Alexander said at a parents’ meeting at Lorenzo R. Smith School.

The state’s grant to Pembroke was designed for a half-day program, but has been full time for years, officials said.

One of the teaching positions has been vacant this year and has been filled by a long-term substitute who lacks the the required state certification, Alexander said. The district has been trying to find a replacement, but the statewide teacher shortage is making that difficult, he said.

Alexander, who took the school’s reins two months ago, said the district has been using money from its main account to subsidize the preschool program. That account, he said, should be spent on grades kindergarten through eighth, not a discretionary, grant-funded program such as preschool.

“Our district’s finances are OK. When I say OK, if the state keeps paying on time, if the county pays property taxes on time, we’ll be OK,” Alexander said. “If the state misses one payment, we’ll have to get a loan to make the next payroll.”

Alexander said it wasn’t an easy conversation to scale back the program, but he said the district would apply for more money to bring back full-day kindergarten.

One problem with the preschool program, Alexander said, is that it has been sending back money to the state annually for the last four years. That includes $10,000 for the last fiscal year and $30,000 the year before that. The state told the district to send back the money because it was either not spent or spent illegally, but the state gave no specifics, the superintendent said.

“If you keep giving money back to the government, what does that tell the government? You don’t need it,” Alexander said.

He said that as long as he was superintendent, “we will not send back one red cent to the district,” promising to spend it all.

Parents expressed concern over daycare costs because of the change.

“How I’m going to pay for that?” one asked.

Alexander said there would be midday transportation to home or child care service.

Board member Robert Chapman praised Alexander for getting a handle on the preschool program, saying he believed the money had been mismanaged. But he said he wished the superintendent had met with parents before the board made its decision.

Some residents became upset near the end of the meeting, which drew about 30 people.

One man said the superintendent seemed arrogant and acted as if he didn’t care.

“I’m sorry I came across as arrogant,” Alexander said. “I was hired to do a job. I can’t say I would do it the same way as the last four or five superintendents.”

He added, “I don’t take any of this personally.”

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