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WRSD voters say no to kindergarten, yes to football program

As the adults argued the pros and cons of all day kindergarten at the annual WRSD meeting last Saturday, five-year-old Logan Heath of Northfield demonstrated technology was alive and well for children his age as he watched cartoons and played games on his mini-lap top computer. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
March 28, 2012
TILTON — It was "No" to all day kindergarten but "Yes" to supporting the Friends of Winnisquam Football when votes were counted after the two most intense discussions at last Saturday's Winnisquam Regional School District's annual meeting.

School board member Sean Goodwin introduced Article 3, asking for an all day kindergarten program at Union Sanborn and Sanbornton Central schools for an initial start up cost of $291,058. The expense would drop by $46,000 in the second year, after curriculum was purchased and staffing adjustments were made.

Goodwin said the district was not a pioneer for all day kindergarten, but felt it was an educationally sound move. Expectations for students in today's world of reading and mathematics are much higher, he said, and the half-day kindergarten program struggles to meet those needs. Studies, he said, have shown fewer problems in higher grade levels for those who attended an all day kindergarten program.

"This is an important component in the long term plan of the district," Goodwin said.

WRSD Budget Committee member Leif Martinson said when he first looked at the proposal, he felt it lacked some vital components, such as no indication of a pilot program to examine the viability of the plan.

"I didn't think this was the right time, but it is the right time to begin discussions," he said.

Many voters lined up to speak on both sides of the issue.

Nancy Court of Northfield said academic standards for children that age were "absurd," and kindergarten should be a time to introduce them to school, rather than a time to "cram all this curriculum into their day." Her husband David agreed, saying he had read of many negative connotations associated with full day programs, including anxiety and a lack of self-control. He felt learning difficulties in later grades would best be served by addressing a child's specific problem.

"All day kindergarten is a group approach. We should focus on individuals, and address their individual needs," he said.

Scott Ruggles of Tilton felt quite the opposite was true. He cited national studies dating back 20 years where, among the many benefits, children of full day programs were later found to have higher social skills and better test scores.

"Wouldn't it be nice to give our students a chance to be ahead of the game?" Ruggles said.

A ballot vote on the issue was requested, and when all was said and done, the article failed after 91 voted for the program and 103 said no. One ballot was left blank.

Football became another matter for discussion when Tim Snow of Sanbornton, president of Friends for Winnisquam Football, addressed his petitioned warrant article requesting $18,000 for the middle and high school football programs. The self-funded, extra-curricular program began in 2006, and the FOWF has annually raised the money to pay for all team expenses. However, mandatory changes in safety equipment recently left the group short on funds to purchase new helmets for the middle school players. Those players currently use equipment more than ten years old, which must now be replaced, instead of refurbished, as it had been in the past. The new helmets and chest pads, Snow said, would include air-cushioned padding, which could help minimize the risk of injury. A new training sled was another mandatory upgrade through the state's sanctioning student athletic association. It, too, would bring improved safety to the sport.

"The high school equipment is good for another five to seven years, and we now have financial plans in place to fund that," Snow said.

He said the group understood when it began offering football to Winnisquam students that FOWF was to be solely responsible for the program, and welcomed that responsibility. The unanticipated expense for the mandatory equipment upgrades, however, was not something they could have foreseen. Likening his request to getting a plane in the air, Snow said this would be a one-time-only request of the district.

"Our plan is starting to take off; we just need this boost to fly," he said.

Both the budget committee and the school board supported the article, but Court once again spoke up to say he feared future "ownership" of the team. Others said they too feared FOWF would be back in the future with more financial requests, but many felt the safety of the players was important, and voiced their support.

"I really feel inflatable helmets and added pads are a good thing, Protecting our children is what this is all about," said Jennifer Holt of Sanbornton.

Budget committee member Tim Pearson of Tilton said FOWF had shown themselves over the years to be a dedicated organization which has done all they said they would do, and he felt a one-time funding request for safe equipment was reasonable.

"I believe them, and think it's high time we supported them," Pearson said.

Voters agreed whole-heartedly with a hand count vote of 138-26.

The final article of the day pertained to the $23,882,438 operational budget, which passed in a near unanimous voice vote, with no discussion. The budget was up by a mere 0.11 percent over 2011.

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