Kennewick preschool program might see changes

All of the Kennewick School District's state-subsidized preschool classrooms could end up in a former school building near downtown Kennewick under one proposal from district administrators.

Superintendent Dave Bond told the school board Wednesday that the district has considered moving the preschoolers in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance, or ECEAP, program to the Fruitland building for the 2015-16 school year, as the building will be largely empty at the time.

Board members have asked for further review and options, as consolidating the program in one place is counter to past decisions keeping the preschoolers in other elementary schools.

"It was deliberate that we wanted to keep our ECEAP students with their (older) siblings," said board President Dawn Adams.

More than 200 preschool students are in ECEAP classrooms in Kennewick. The state-funded program provides free preschool for low-income families, though there are far more eligible children in the district than there is space.

Five schools currently have at least one classroom dedicated to the program, most of them near downtown, where many of the students live. However, one classroom is in west Kennewick at Ridgeview Elementary School, Bond said.

"ECEAP moves every year," Bond said. "It moves where we have space."

The Fruitland building, located at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Garfield Street, has been used as a temporary home for schools as their buildings were rebuilt. Eastgate Elementary School students and teachers will be at the building for the 2014-15 school year but then it will be empty for at least a year.

The board rejected a past proposal to build an early learning center to house ECEAP last year, saying it's easier on families for preschoolers to attend school with their grade school-age siblings. Adams also raised a concern about where ECEAP would go when Fruitland is again needed during the next school rebuilding project, which could happen as soon as 2016.

Also Wednesday:

-- The board approved spending about $555,000 to install portable classrooms equipped as computer labs at three elementary schools and provide carts equipped with laptop computers to five other elementary schools.

District administrators said the new technology is needed to meet computer education needs but also help with standardized testing, which is becoming more computer-based with each year.

Bond said the schools receiving the additional technology currently have the least computer resources among the district's schools. One school, Washington Elementary School, doesn't even have a fully-equipped computer lab.

The six elementary schools that won't receive equipment will be evaluated for their technology needs throughout the next school year, Bond said.

-- The board approved a 2014-15 operating budget of about $173.6 million, more than $8.5 million from the previous school year.

The district will need to hire dozens of teachers and other staff throughout the district to meet growing enrollment while also keeping up with the rising cost of utilities, transportation and technology costs and other expenses.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald