Springfield bond ‘Proposition S’ includes funds for historic preschool expansion – Springfield News-Leader
Springfield’s upcoming bond issue includes funds to build preschool classrooms in the central, northwest and southwest parts of the city.
If the $168 million tax proposal — listed on the April 2 ballot as Proposition S — is approved by at least 57.14 percent of the voters, the funds it generates will pave the way for a historic expansion of early childhood education, including:
- Construction of a new Southwest Early Childhood Center on the campus of Carver Middle School, located on West Battlefield Road
- Construction of a new Boyd Elementary, located at Division Street and Sherman Avenue, with a preschool mini-hub
- Addition of a preschool mini-hub during an extensive renovation of Williams Elementary, located on West Kearney Street
The Community Task Force on Facilities, which recommended the projects for the bond, made space for 4-year-old children a top priority.
Bridget Dierks, vice president of program at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, said Springfield has a “school readiness problem,” meaning children lack the skills they need to succeed when they enter kindergarten.
“Preschool is shown to be really effective and it also helps low-income families because child care costs are really expensive,” said Dierks, who co-chaired the task force of more than 30 students, parents, teachers and taxpayers. “… Preschool really can significantly impact a child’s life and their outcome and their potential income as an adult.”
There has been a chorus of community support for the bond issue — and, in particular, the preschool expansion — from the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor’s Commission for Children, Every Child Promise and the Springfield National Education Association, among others.
Related: Two years ago, voters rejected Springfield school bond. How is this one different?
The Readiness for Kindergarten report released in May 2017 showed 25 percent of the incoming Springfield students did not have the skills necessary to make the most of that critical year and were in danger of lagging behind peers.
“Our kindergarten teachers throughout the district say that it takes them less than five minutes to recognize which students came from a pre-K program and which did not,” said Springfield school board president Jill Patterson. “It is marked, the improvement, the readiness, the preparedness that they sense.”
She added: “They say it has a phenomenal impact.”
For at least two decades, the Springfield community has explored ways to expand high-quality preschool for families stuck in the middle because they could not afford to pay for private programs or secure a spot in public programs that are free or low cost.
A series of solutions have been explored, but the main barrier to expanding access has long been identifying a sustainable funding source.
That changed when legislation approved by the Missouri General Assembly cleared the way for districts to seek state funding to expand preschool, starting with the 2018-19 year.
Expansion in each district is based on the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced-price school meals, a national measure of poverty. In Springfield, the formula meant serving an additional 600 children.
Patterson said serving more students in preschool likely means more students who are prepared to learn in school and beyond.
“Students who have more success and grow more and become successful members of our community,” she said. “They are prepared to consider a variety of choices and they are more suited for the opportunities that they will have.”
Missy Riley, director of early childhood education and Parents As Teachers, said the centers and classrooms have been concentrated in the north half of the district due to demand and existence of extra space.
“Most of our classrooms are north because that’s where we have more space in schools and because that is where a lot of our students live.”
More: Why Springfield chamber of commerce backs SPS bond issue, school board incumbents
Riley said demand has been growing south of Sunshine Street and in the southwest part of the city, where the new center is planned.
“The need on that side of town is huge,” she said.
Superintendent John Jungmann proposed adding 200 children a year for three years but noted a need for more preschool classrooms.
The district sought to create that space a couple of different ways, including with the 2017 bond issue, which was rejected by voters.
A year ago, to make way for the first 200 new preschool spots, the school board voted to close Campbell Elementary, located on South Grant Avenue near downtown, as an elementary and reopen it as an early childhood center in August 2018.
However, that move was viewed as temporary and the district sought additional space.
David Hall, who co-chaired the task force with Dierks, said there was strong support for creating space for preschool classrooms. He recalled a proposal from nearly a decade ago when the community rejected a different expansion plan.
“The biggest discussion was really how we provide it,” he said. “That is a sentiment that has changed from 2010, when there was the question of should we or not. That is how far the community has moved since then.”
Following the failed 2017 bond issue, the school administration recommended closing additional elementary schools and turning them into preschool centers. The task force rejected that option.
Hall said the task force recommended building one new center — to serve an estimated 250 students — and constructing preschool mini-hubs at Boyd and Williams.
“What we came back with wasn’t obviously their first choice,” Hall said. “What we were looking at was what was the best model and we ultimately came up with that hybrid model.”
Under the plan, the district will continue to use a mix of preschool centers, mini-hubs and a smattering of classrooms embedded in traditional elementary school buildings.
Dierks, the co-chair, said there was not a one-size-fits-all approach and the task force recommendations were based on input from those connected to each of the buildings where preschool classrooms are slated to be added.
“What we ultimately relied on was the perspective of people who live in the communities and represent the communities that we were putting these preschool classrooms in,” she said. “We came back to the question of what does equity in preschool education look like in this community?”
There are nearly 1,000 seats available in Springfield Public Schools’ early childhood programs — 580 for Wonder Years, 51 in Head Start partnerships at the Meadowbrook Head Start and Tampa Head Start locations, and more than 300 in the early childhood special education program.
The Shining Stars Early Childhood Center is the headquarters for children, ages 3 and 4, with special needs including speech-language pathology. Spots are also available for typically-developing peers without special needs.
More: What the proposed $168M Springfield bond issue will cost taxpayers
The program has a few classrooms located in other buildings and also serves students in private preschool programs. Services are also provided to medically fragile students in their homes.
The Wonder Years program is headquartered at the Shady Dell Early Childhood Center and the Campbell Early Childhood Center. Additional classrooms located at Bowerman, Cowden, Fremont, Holland, Twain, Watkins, Weaver, Williams and York.
On April 2, voters will decide the fate of a $168 million bond issue, known as Proposition S, that includes 39 projects. If approved, it will raise the district’s debt service levy by 18 cents over a two-year period, increasing the property tax bill on a $100,000 house by $34.40, to pay for the following:
- Secure entrances at 31 school buildings
- Construction of new Boyd and Delaware elementary schools and a new Jarrett
- Renovation of Sunshine and Williams elementary schools
- A major overhaul, including renovation and new construction, at Hillcrest High
- Addition of preschool space at Williams and construction of a new southwest region early childhood center.
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