Shawnee Dispatch

Many hopes pinned on planned new center

August 30, 2006

The new 71st Street elementary school in Shawnee can't come soon enough for the early childhood education programs at De Soto schools.

Jack Deyoe, director of operations and planning, said preliminary numbers put 134 students in both the preschool and 4-year-old, at-risk programs. He expects that to grow before the school counts its official numbers Sept. 20, as the families entering the district for the first time are just learning about the programs.

The state requires the district provide preschools for at-risk and special-needs children. However, the students are counted as half a student in the state's base per-pupil formula of $4,316 per student. That means the district gets about $2,158 for every at-risk student, special needs preschool student or kindergarten student. The official numbers will be counted Sept. 20, which will determine how much funding per pupil the programs will receive.

Last year, the district had a preliminary enrollment of 153 in the preschool program before overcrowding at Prairie Ridge Elementary School forced administrators to move all the programs to Countryside Learning Center in De Soto. Although this year's preliminary enrollment numbers don't show as many students, Deyoe said the programs have rapid growth in the beginning of each year. On Aug. 18, there were about 40 students with special needs in the early childhood preschool program. On Aug. 25, there were 70 students.

"When you build an elementary school, you figure so many full classrooms," Deyoe said. " But when you put in a program for developmental delayed (children), you might have four or five kids in those classrooms instead of 20 or 21 --hat just takes space out of your school."

Although the 71st Street elementary school in Shawnee, set to open in the fall of 2007, would alleviate those overcrowding issues temporarily, population projections would soon fill all available spaces in the district. That's why the De Soto district is including an early childhood education center in its $105.7 million bond issue to be approved by voters in November. It would be built adjacent to the 71st Street school.

"We'll have this sixth elementary next year and some of the spaces will come back that we've lost this year," Deyoe said. "That's when we'll need the early childhood center, it's just an addition onto the sixth elementary on 71st Street, it's not a building itself."

Deyoe said the early childhood education numbers are difficult to calculate in the De Soto area, with many young families bringing young children under age 5 throughout the year.

Space is limited for the preschool program and Deyoe said there's a long list of students waiting to get into preschool. In addition to preschool students identified as having special needs, the district opens its preschool to a limited number of role models to provide behavioral examples.

The district charges tuition for the peer modeling students because they get no funding for those students from the state, Deyoe said.

About 41 models and 70 "non"-model students are currently in the preschool program. Last year, the district had 78 models and 53 "non"-models in the preschool program.

For the at-risk program, the district serves 22 students. Deyoe said the at-risk number was more restricted and was the same last year for both the preliminary enrollment and the official count in September.

Like the preschool numbers, the district only gets to count those students as half-students with the state school finance formula. The same is true with all kindergarten -- while the preliminary numbers put about 523 kindergartners in De Soto, the school only gets to count half a student for the school finance formula. Last year, preliminary enrollment numbers showed 510 in the kindergarten throughout the district. The students attend half-day kindergarten because there wouldn't be space for them to attend a full day, Deyoe said.

Deyoe said although the early childhood education numbers don't give a good picture of how many students will enter the district in upcoming years, it does identify some of the special needs students.

"It's indicative of the number of special education students that will qualify with IEPs," he said. "But as far as giving me any idea of numbers of children, the (preschool peer) models are just kind of a service -- it doesn't represent anything as far as numbers."

Originally published at: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2006/aug/30/many_hopes_pinned/