The Kennewick School Board will increase funding for programs preparing students for kindergarten, though the district will have to dip into savings to do it.
Board members Ron Mabry and Ben Messinger voted Wednesday night to provide more than $244,000 to the Children's Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia for the READY! for Kindergarten program, a roughly $50,000 increase over how much was provided the previous year.
"I'm normally a miser but these are really good programs," Messinger said.
Board member Brian Brooks opposed the decision. Board members Dawn Adams and Heather Kintzley were absent.
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Business Manager Vic Roberts told the board any extra funding to the programs would add to a projected deficit next year and cautioned against anything more than a $20,000 increase to the foundation's funding.
"There's really not a lot of money," he said.
Along with the pre-K program, the foundation oversees Team Read, a reading intervention program for elementary students under a contract with the district.
The READY! for Kindergarten program served more than 2,300 parents this past school year. The program provides materials and training to parents of children 5 years old and younger to help prepare them for kindergarten. The program started providing similar services to child care providers last year.
Outgoing executive director Brian Ace and Superintendent Dave Bond said the cost of kits to parents, which include educational toys and games, have increased after holding steady for the past five to six years.
Bond said providing anything less than the $50,000 increase would eat into the number of kits that could be provided.
"That means there's a high likelihood we'd turn parents away," he said.
All three present board members voiced support for the program. Brooks said his opposition to the $50,000 increase was strictly because of budget considerations.
Mabry added there is no guarantee the program will serve all the parents budgeted for, so the district still could see some of that money go unspent.
w Roberts gave a preliminary budget preview to the board for the 2012-13 school year, projecting approximately a $3 million deficit that will cut into the district's general fund.
The deficit comes from stagnant enrollment, increasing costs such as for fuel and energy and the loss of hundreds of thousands dollars in state money from levy equalization and the ability to pay for some teaching staff out of supplemental state funding.
Despite the deficit, Roberts said the district still should have about $22.3 million in its general fund a year from now.
"We will still have a healthy fund balance," he said.
The board is scheduled to review a final budget at its July 18 meeting before approving it.
w District officials are looking at simplifying the requirements for high school students to waive physical education classes.
Under current district policy, students can waive physical education "with good cause" and receive credit if they pass a set of three tests meant to measure knowledge, fitness and skills covered in the physical education curriculum.
Ron Williamson, assistant superintendent for secondary education, provided a rundown of proposed changes to the waiver policy, including excluding body mass index, or BMI, as a fitness standard, updating the knowledge test and dropping the skills portion of the testing process.
He also noted the district has seen increased interest from students seeking the waiver and more are earning it.
Board members voiced support for the changes but said they wanted to see sample policies from neighboring districts before moving forward.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; email@example.com