BLOUNTVILLE — The merger of a new parent-paid pre-kindergarten program at Miller Perry Elementary School into one at Rock Springs Elementary got an 11th hour reprieve Thursday.
As part of the larger issue of approving an amended 2013-14 school budget, the Sullivan County Board of Education voted 7-0 to extend the deadline for pre-kindergarten enrollment to Sept. 15. The school system recently had announced that the Miller Perry program would be rolled into the Rock Springs one because of lower enrollment at Miller Perry, but parents of Miller Perry children in the program came to the meeting to show their support.
Dallin and Sarah Bastian have three daughters at Miller Perry: one each in pre-K, third grade and kindergarten. Dallin Bastian said one drop-off is convenient for him as a former Marine seeking a college degree at East Tennessee State University and that his smallest daughter loves going to the same school as her older sisters.
Another parent offered to help “market” the program at Miller Perry.
Carol Briggs, pre-K coordinator for the school system, said that the Miller Perry paid pre-K has drawn fewer children and that a higher percentage of their parents wanted two- or three-day-a-week programs, not the five days originally planned.
Briggs said Central Heights Elementary has 12 students signed up, Miller Perry has 8, and Rock Springs had 11.
The cost is $590 a month for 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. or $500 for a 5.5-hour program starting when the rest of the school does. She said she’s tried to accommodate part-timers, with the idea the children eventually would go to five days a week.
“This is not about babysitting. I want this to be about education. We’ve got Common Core standards for pre-K,” Briggs told the board. “We would have a better program if they came five days a week.”
Briggs said she was open to the delay and hopes more students come forward at all three schools.
BOE member Randall Jones made a motion for the delay in the merger to give Miller Perry more time to gather more students, with Yennie and Briggs to make the final decision on that pre-K program’s fate after that deadline.
Yennie said the school system would not run a parent-supported pre-K program that was not self-supporting.
BOE member Todd Broughton, who abstained in the overall budget vote but voted with the six other BOE members to extend the pre-K deadline to Sept. 15, said the $590 a month is “a lot of money.” Yennie said the system is working with Tennessee to get possible tuition assistance for eligible parents.