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Parents, schools work through some inconveniences to get kindergartners home early

Effort comes after School Board cut early-afternoon buses

Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2003

Although the Juneau School District eliminated early afternoon buses for kindergartners, parents have found ways to get the children home, school officials said. Still, it wasn't without some inconvenience, parents said.

"Things are going really well," said Harborview Elementary Principal Kathi Yanamura on Thursday.

The school year began for kindergartners Tuesday. They attend classes for about two-thirds of the normal elementary-school day.

Until this year the district provided early buses to get kindergartners home. Half of the 361 kindergartners last school year used them. But the Juneau School Board, facing a shortage of $1.75 million in this school year's budget, cut the early-afternoon buses, saving an estimated $143,000.

Attending kindergarten isn't mandatory, and the district isn't required to provide busing for kindergartners. Some districts in Alaska don't.

District administrators had recommended that kindergarten be extended to a full day, saying it was better educationally and would allow the children to take the regular buses home.

But half of surveyed parents and 90 percent of teachers opposed a longer day, saying it would tire the children. Critics also said the longer day would take teachers' time away from first-graders in classes that combine kindergartners and first-graders.

A few kindergarten parents at Harborview downtown could not leave work to pick up the children or don't have a car, Yanamura said.

"We're working with every family to help them come up with a solution for the transportation issue," she said.

If the problem was financial, school officials worked to get assistance from local charities so the children could attend the after-school RALLY program, she said.

RALLY, funded by user fees, hasn't seen an influx of kindergartners. There are 81 enrolled so far, said RALLY supervisor Kathi Riemer on Thursday, fewer than the 115 enrolled in May last school year.

Although the school district has made a good effort to help families, some children may have fallen through the cracks, suggested Jodi Rumph, who volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul shelter for homeless families. Some parents didn't know to ask for a RALLY scholarship or may have been unwilling to ask for one, she said.

Rumph also knows of some parents, not at the homeless shelter, who gave up day jobs so they could pick up their children at school using city buses.

Patty Newman, principal at Mendenhall River Community School, said its kindergarten parents haven't had problems getting their children home.

"We were ready to do whatever we needed to do to help, but we didn't have the need," she said.

In recent years, elementary school staff have met with families of kindergartners before the school year starts, to get acquainted and to orient the children. This year, officials made sure every family knew of the busing decision and had a way to get the children home. Some parents are car-pooling, principals said.

"We've had no impact at all," said Auke Bay Elementary Principal Dave Newton. "We helped facilitate parents in a process - when we met with each family individually - to car-pool."

"Everybody had a plan," said Angie Lunda, principal at Gastineau Elementary in Douglas. "They either are in RALLY, or a child-care provider picks them up or a parent picks them up."

Newton and other principals said they hadn't heard from any parents who said they wouldn't enroll their kindergartners because of transportation problems.

Kindergarten enrollments have matched projected attendance, district officials said. But officials wouldn't necessarily hear from disaffected parents who didn't register their children. Rumph, a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul, said she knew of a few low-income parents who didn't enroll kindergarten-age children at least partly because of transportation concerns.

At Glacier Valley Elementary School in the Mendenhall Valley, it's common for parents to walk their kindergarten children to and from school.

"For me, it's not a problem. I live really close," said parent Darcy Herron, who picks up her son, Nathan, at the school on foot. "It would be an inconvenience if you had to work."

Christina See may face that problem in a couple of years, when one of her sons is ready for kindergarten. She's concerned that she won't be able to take a day job because she will have to be able to pick up her child from school.

"There are a lot of parents that can't pick them up from work, or pay for RALLY," she said. "I think it's a hardship for parents, when it should be a public service to provide a school bus."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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