Funding for all-day pre-k may be heading to Bayonne as part of $25 million in earmarked funds from July’s state school funding agreement that netted Bayonne an additional $2.9 million. While those funds are vital, all-day pre-k remains a major priority for the district, which saw its pre-k funding slashed by half a million dollars last year.
School districts were notified last week of a looming August 21 deadline, leaving the Bayonne Board of Education (BBOED) a short window to come up with a plan. While any additional funds are more than welcome in the long-starved Bayonne school district, the burning question in the minds of the school administration is whether the funds will cover the costs of an all-day pre-k expansion while very little space is available in current facilities. Districts that receive the funds are required to begin the all-day pre-k programs by November 1.
“We can get money for more teachers, more resources and books, but let’s face it, where are we going to put them,” said BBOED Trustee Christopher Munoz. “We don’t have the space. We are bursting at the seams.”
The answer may be to adopt the use of modular classrooms to accommodate the program. The classrooms, which are similar to trailers, are separate from the main buildings and are transported by truck. The classrooms are then hooked up to power and plumbing, and are ready for use. State regulations require them to be at least 950 square feet, have bathroom access, and sufficient space for nap time.
Currently, the city has 468 students in free half-day programs, which run in every elementary school. Additional state funding would enable the district to expand into free full-day program.Only 18 kids in Bayonne are currently enrolled in the district’s full-day program, which costs a fee. For now, modular classrooms would be necessary to accommodate the 737 eligible children.
Bayonne has rented modular classrooms during periods of construction, as is common in other cities. If the district were to adopt the external classrooms, they would rely on them until it can construct a new building to accommodate the growing district-wide student population. Meanwhile, the administration and Board of Education are re-evaluating a long-term facilities plan that would aim to either increase capacity in the current buildings or construct new ones.
Short notice and feasibility
For now, the school administration is determining whether the plan in their application is realistic and sustainable, allwhile sorting out details that can make or break the application. “First,we have to see if there is enough funding to allow us to do what we want to do,” said Interim Superintendent Michael A. Wanko, uncertain of exactly how much funding Bayonne would receive and how much modular classrooms would cost in the long term. “So we’d have to pay or rent the trailers, but is that going to be included in the grant? These are some of the things I have to find out and whether it will be financially feasible because I can’t put any more on the taxpayers’ back at this point.”
The district voted to levy a 5.6 percent property tax last year after a significant budget deficit was unearthed in November, putting added pressure on households that are spending an increasing portion of family income on property taxes.
Easier to build strong children
Pre-k is largely accepted by educators, academics, and legislators to be vitally important to public education. “The earlier we have intervention with students, the better it is for everyone,” said Wanko.“The earlier you can start a child on their educational journey, the more knowledge they will have as they go through the grade levels. Children who go through pre-k have a leg up on those students who do not. I wouldn’t say just Bayonne needs pre-k. Every district should have pre-k.”
Despite the uncertainty over issues of feasibility and sustainability, Wanko said the district intends to apply, and hope for the best. “With this short timeline, we really have our backs against the wall. We appreciate the money, don’t get me wrong. This would be great if we can get this done.”
To get it done, the BBOED will likely have to call a special meeting because the August 21 deadline comes before the next scheduled meeting on August 23.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.