Kennewick School Distirct abandons plans for dedicated early learning center

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 14, 2013 

— The Kennewick School District will not build a dedicated center for preschool or kindergarten students near Amistad Elementary School.

Kennewick School Board members decided to abandon the proposal at a meeting Wednesday night. They had been considering the idea since it was brought up by district administrators in January.

Superintendent Dave Bond said not building the center will mean more portable classrooms in the short term to meet space needs for the district's youngest students. However, the district will save money and keep those students with their older siblings by instead committing to build more classrooms with new schools.

"I think we need to look long term and look at building larger elementary schools," said board member Brian Brooks.

The building would have served students in the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or ECEAP, which has more than 200 students in the district. It also could have been built to serve kindergartners.

District administrators proposed the idea as a way to ease overcrowding in east Kennewick schools, which have the most ECEAP students. It also would make room for the eventual implementation of full-day kindergarten, which requires 16 additional classrooms throughout the district, and the possible addition of more funding for ECEAP.

Based on estimates, an ECEAP center would cost the district about $4.7 million to build, while a kindergarten center would cost $7.6 million. The kindergarten center would cost more because it would have four more classrooms, as well as other spaces preschool students don't need, such as a music room, library and computer lab.

The district would be able to use current capital funds to build either center, but there were financial downsides. Though less expensive, the ECEAP center would cost the district more money because it can't qualify for state matching dollars, Bond said. Only capital construction for K-12 students qualifies for state assistance.

In fact, Bond said, the district could build a new elementary school, designed to accommodate more students, for the same cost of an ECEAP center because of the estimated state matching dollars.

"It's a better bang for our buck to build bigger elementary schools instead of small centers," he said.

There's also the issue of separating the district's youngest students from others in the elementary schools. Bond said ECEAP staff would prefer to remain in the elementary schools, allowing those students to be familiar with the schools, rather than move to their own building. Board members also expressed concerns about the possible separation of students.

"I'm sensitive about keeping families together," said board member Heather Kintzley. "I like the idea of them going to the school where they'll be going for the next five years."

Board member Ron Mabry said building bigger elementary schools would run counter to past board positions on having small neighborhood schools. Bond said the schools wouldn't be too much larger, perhaps two to three more classrooms.

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