Niles schools to provide own preschool services next year

Published 3:24 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Niles Community Schools will be paying for their own preschool program next school year.
Superintendent Doug Law said the board of education was notified in April that Tri-County Head Start would not renew their contract with the district. Niles was the last of seven area school districts to have an agreement for preschool services with Tri-County Head Start.
The federally-funded early childhood program has provided educational services to low-income three and four-year-olds and their families in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties for 30 years. Tri-County Head Start currently serves about 1,000 children at 13 to 15 sites.
The Head Start program on Bertrand road in Milton Township could be cut to half-days next year in order to make room for an additional 20 students, Law said.
Law also added the board is hoping to add more students to their state-funded Early Learners program. The program serviced 112 students in 2005/2006. A response from the state on whether or not Niles will receive more funding for the program is expected in August, Law said.
The board will appeal the decision by Head Start, but the budget proposed for the 2006/2007 school year has already been prepared to accommodate the cost of running the program. Law said $500,000 will be drawn out of the district's fund equity portion to pay for a preschool program. Fund equity accounts for about 10 percent, or $3 million of the total budget.
Steps have been taken to reach Head Start and reverse the decision. Law said U.S. Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) sent a letter to Head Start's regional office in Chicago.
Certain “at-risk factors” must be met for children to qualify for Head Start, Law said. Children who are part of a low-income family, who live with one parent or in homes where English is not the primary language are examples of qualified students.
Four teachers oversee the district's current Head Start program at Northside Child Development Center, which includes 68 kids. Law said three of the instructors have already earned Master's degrees in early childhood management, while the fourth is in school for the same certification now.
The 2006/2007 budget for Niles Community Schools was proposed Monday night at the Westside Administration Building. Law said next year will be the first time in four years the district has had to take money from the fund equity to balance the budget. Cost of insurance, retirement and utilities were the major reasons for dipping into the fund, Law said.
Revenues in the general fund budget were increased by about 2 percent, which was based on an increase of $225 per student in state aid. Law said the increase raised the per pupil aid amount from $6,875 to about $7,100.
Expenditures in the general budget also increased by 3.7 percent. The jump placed the district at a deficit of $1.4 million.
The 2005/2006 deficit was about $1.2 million, Law said.
The board will vote on the proposed budget at a meeting scheduled for Monday, June 19.
A contract agreement was finalized Monday night with the secretary's union, which is represented by the Michigan Education Association. Law said the collaborative discussions were done without professional negotiators, similar to the contract talks with teachers earlier in the year.
In the three year agreement, Law said the 32 secretaries will receive a 1.5 percent increase in salary after the first year, a 2.25 percent raise after the second with increases in the third year left negotiable. The current salary for “year-round” secretaries in the district ranges from $17,000 to $28,000, Law said.
Law also added secretaries would retain the same insurance package unless there was a certain increase in cost of coverage. Any increase over 8 percent in the first year would mean the secretaries would have to cover the added cost. Anything less than 8 percent would be added to the annual salary, Law said. The same agreement would apply for the second year, except the limit would be placed at 10 percent.