COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education is expected to decide tonight if its prekindergarten program will be able to continue at full speed next school year.
Last week, Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews asked the board to approve the intent to provide a full academic year for Newton County's Pre-K program next school year. The state is expected to reduce Pre-K programs across the state from 180 days to 160 days.
"That's a lot of lost instruction for these young ones -- a lot of school readiness gone by the wayside," Mathews has said.
Mathews warned that NCSS is made up of 62 percent at-risk student population -- who often lack necessary background knowledge for academic success.
"Realistically, Pre-K education is the entry point in our education system, providing the most basic foundation of learning," Mathews said in a memo to school board members. "We know, for example, that most brain development takes place before the age of 5. Reaching children early puts them on a more likely pathway to academic success."
He said most teachers in Georgia feel that students completing a pre-K program are better prepared socially, behaviorally and academically in reading and math than those who attend kindergarten after not being in a program.
"There is just a plethora of research ... as to the value of pre-K education," Mathews told school board members.
He said the cut could result in a loss of 10 percent in pre-K teachers' salaries.
To recoup the reduced state funds, Mathews said it would cost the system about $185,000. Already NCSS is cutting at least $8 million from next school year's budgets because of reduced federal, state and local revenues.
Mathews told school board members that school officials expect at least three less positions at the middle school level next school year that could make up the difference.
"We're good to go on this," he said.
NCSS currently has 540 students in the Pre-K program -- two classes of 20 at each elementary school except for the theme school, which has none, plus an extra class of 20 at Live Oak Elementary School, which has three classes.
School board member Eddie Johnson asked if the program could continue as a fee-based program.
"We've got to do something that we've not been doing," he said at the school board's monthly work session last week.
Mathews said he hesitates to add a cost to the program since many students in the program come from low-income families, but it may be possible to look into that option in the future if necessary.
"In the 10 years of the Georgia Lottery Pre-K, there's been no parent subsidy," said Dr. Ken Proctor, director of Elementary Curriculum at NCSS. "But because of changes this year, that is something that could happen. The Department of Curriculum and Learning (at the state level) hasn't given us true guidance because it hasn't passed legislation yet."
The school board will meet at 7 p.m. today in the board room at the Newton County BOE building, located at 2109 Newton Drive N.E. in Covington, for its monthly meeting. The item is part of its agenda.