Mt. Pleasant Community School District may not pass up second chance on preschool
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
When the State of Iowa launched its voluntary preschool program for four-year-old students earlier this century, the Mt. Pleasant Community School District respectfully declined to participate.
So did New London, making the two districts the lone schools in the county without the program.
Now, school districts without the program are being given a second chance. The state has re-opened the program. Although the original deadline has passed for applications, Mt. Pleasant was granted an extension until August because the district has a new superintendent.
The new guy at the helm — Mike Wells, during his first school board meeting Monday night — told the Mt. Pleasant School Board that he wants to explore the possibility of offering the program.
Mt. Pleasant opted against offering the program because it did not want to compete against privately-run preschools and over uncertainty that the state would continue to fund the venture.
Wells has organized a July 24 meeting between the school district and local preschools to discuss the program. The meeting will be at 10 a.m. at the district’s central office.
“If the meeting goes well, I will pursue it,” Wells told the board. “I am not looking at putting people out of business, but rather, a partnership.” He sent letters yesterday to around 20 community preschool officials.
Wells noted school readiness is a key concern for the district. “I would recommend that we gauge the interest of our community partners and pursue the funding/programming,” he said in a note to the board.
He said that having a preschool would help the district align its curriculum and also garner around $400,000 in state funding. That funding, however, would not be dispersed by the state until the second year of the program because funding always is the year following. For example, state funding for the school district next year will be based on the enrollment count from the past school year.
The superintendent, however, was optimistic that the district could offer the program despite the funding delay. “One of the dilemmas is the cost because the state is always a year behind on funding. I think we can make it work.”
Sarah Kramer of Grasshopper Green, a preschool at Iowa Wesleyan College, welcomed the idea. “There are not enough preschool slots (openings for eligible youngsters) with the Owl’s Nest closing,” she noted. “This would be a very positive thing for the community.”
Playing devil’s advocate, board member Lonny Morrow asked Wells what the district would do if he received “a lot of negative feedback” during the July 24 meeting.
“I guess we would have to hope they (the state) would offer it again next year,” Wells answered. “That way, we would have a year of planning.”
Transportation, Wells said, is a significant obstacle. “If the school district does it (provide transportation), we will go broke. It would be better to contract for transportation…We can only do so much due to the lack of funding for the first year.”
Salem, he said, would have to have a (preschool) site developed, too. “There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but this is a good first step,” Wells concluded.
Although no official vote was needed for Wells to proceed, board consensus was to proceed.
Board members meet again in regular session Monday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m. in the central office.