By Pete Legasey
For the Transcript
On March 26, the Winthrop School Committee voted to approve a recommendation from the Superintendent and Financial Manager to raise the tuition fee for prekindergarten classes at the Gorman P. Fort Banks School. The tuition for the coming school year will be set at $1,600, a 28% increase over the $1,250 that Winthrop families have paid to send their children to pre-K classes for the last five years.
Sixteen children are participating in pre-K classes at Fort Banks this year. WPS Financial Manager Kevin Meagher said that that number would likely increase to “about 24” when the new school year begins in the fall. The increase may require the district to hire an additional half-time pre-K teacher, which would be covered by the increase.
The pre-kindergarten program at Fort Banks integrates students whose families pay tuition with Special Education students, who are not charged tuition. Meagher explained that the town is required to provide pre-K educational services for SPED students, and that the decision to integrate those students with those in the traditional pre-K class was made to allow the students with special needs to learn in a more natural environment where they are fully integrated with other students.
The Committee’s decision to raise pre-K tuition came on the heels of a vote taken last month that raised the district’s kindergarten tuition from $1,800 to $2,300. Prior to each vote, the Committee lamented the fact that the district does not have the available funds needed to effectively eliminate tuition fees for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten.
Several school districts in the state have been able to offer kindergarten free of tuition through the Chapter 70 aid program, which provides those districts with $2,600 per student. The state requires communities to front the tuition for its kindergarteners before having that money gradually reimbursed through Chapter 70, which is the only factor preventing Winthrop from applying for similar assistance.
Already in midst of succession of budget cuts to help spell the town’s financial woes, Winthrop Public Schools would need to front approx $350,000 to cover the tuition of all of its current kindergartners in order to gain tuition relief from the state.