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Kindergarten mom digs out lead that helped end fee

Money logoA Googling mom has helped parents find a way out of the forest of increasing fees for all-day kindergarten.

Ruthellyn Jacob, whose daughter just started kindergarten at Peirce, spotted a news item last spring that led the school subcommittee of which she was a part to information that resulted in wiping out the long-contentious fee.

"Oh, my goodness," Jacob said in a telephone interview a day after the School Committee's vote Sept. 13 put an official sanction behind the ground work that she and the committee laid.

"I was so happy to tell other parents at Peirce the next day. Many did not know."

Apart from the initial enthusiasm, which must face a Town Meeting vote Oct. 10, she took a longer view. The removal of the fee is a "selling point for the community," she said.

This story begins about a year ago, when Jacob saw the program's stiff fee, $3,000 a year, which her family faced. As the school year proceeded, she saw news stories about the steps the school business office had to take to collect the fee, including establishing a deadline to pay in January.

Of course, since 1997, when full-day kindergarten became a full-fledged school program, with a $1,500 fee, school officials have wanted to reduce or eliminate the annual payment. Over the years, the fee has dropped to $500 but risen to $3,000.

Signs up for subcommittee

Eager to work on the issue, she signed on in February with the subcommittee, led by School Committee member Bill Hayner, charged with looking at a variety of kindergarten issues.

Among others, the group compared what parents paid in other Massachusetts towns. Some, such as Stoneham, pay more than the $3,000 tuition in Arlington. Others pay less. Then she found some who didn't pay.

One was Melrose. In news stories she found by Googling, she learned that Melrose Mayor Rob Dolan proposed removing the $1,500 fee for all-day kindergarten last March -- and his plan was approved in May.

Here's what caught Jacob's eye: The move was projected to cost about $500,000 in 2012-13, but Melrose's Chapter 70 state education funding would cover the cost of the full-day students in subsequent years.

As of last spring, Melrose got 50 percent of state aid that it receives per student for each full-day kindergarten student whose family paid the fee, but Melrose would get full funding for each student who went to full-day kindergarten free.

Jacob, whose background includes pharmaceutical sales, wondered: "What about Arlington?"

So she and others on the subcommittee, including Julie Dunn and Hardy Principal Deb D'Amico began investigating to find out.

Johnson helps confirm numbers

That work, in which Diane Johnson, the schools' chief financial officer, played a nitty-gritty role, concluded in August, with confirmation that what Melrose did would fly here.

With that nailed down, key leaders of Arlington's finances got involved. Among other matters, they discussed whether tuition already paid this year could be refunded. They decided it could, and on Sept. 12, the town's Finance Committee voted to transfer $970,000 from a reserve fund. Town Meeting must vote on that transfer.

In announcing the end of the fees Sept. 14, a school news release said: "This change has been made possible thanks to support from the Town of Arlington, which has agreed to provide additional funding to cover this year's kindergarten fees in anticipation of increased state aid next fiscal year.

"All fees collected for the 2012-2013 school year will be refunded to parents.

"Under the state’s current educational funding formula, which was recently adjusted, offering free full-day kindergarten will increase Arlington’s Chapter 70 aid during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The expected increase in Chapter 70 aid will fully offset the cost of this year’s Kindergarten fees."

The reference to the adjustment of the state-aid formula is likely music to the ears of Allan Tosti, longtime Fincom chairman, who has spoken out for years about needed adjustment to the formula that brings state aid to Arlington.

Athletics, music fees are extracurricular

Hayner has made clear that the removal of the kindergarten fee does not work for other school fees. "Kindergarten is a curriculum issue," he said. "The others [athletics or music] are extracurricular."

The final report of the kindergarten committee, issued in June, recommended working to end the fee. Now it has been.

Members were parents Dolores McGee, Brendan O'Day, Farhana Riaz and Jacob; Deborah D'Amico and Julie Dunn, administration; and William Hayner.

This story was first reported Monday, Sept. 17, 2012.

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