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Schools: Waccamaw Elementary renews plea for full-day pre-K

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Waccamaw Elementary School has joined the list of county schools that are again asking the school board to expand preschool classes to a full day. And the federal budget cuts that began last week through the process known as sequestration are likely to increase demand for full-day preschool as funds for Head Start are cut, Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

Adding full-day preschool will cut the number of special education students and better prepare students for the new Common Core curriculum that the district has adopted, said Vervatine Reid, principal at Waccamaw Elementary.

The school has 40 pre-K students divided between morning and afternoon classes. There are two on a waiting list, she said.

But parents with children in private or church-sponsored programs “are waiting for the opportunity for full-day pre-K,” Reid said.

The district now offers full-day preschool at four of its nine elementary schools using federal Title I funds that are available to schools with a large number of low-income students. Waccamaw doesn’t get those funds so adding full-day preschool there will require the district to fund a similar program at a Title I school to remain in compliance with federal regulations, Dozier said.

No cost estimate was attached to Reid’s request, but a similar request for Sampit Elementary School asked for $60,000 for a teacher and $30,000 for an assistant. The district also received a request for full-day preschool from Kensington Elementary in Georgetown.

“It looks like we’re going to have to decide how much is available for the pre-K program,” School Board Member Richard Kerr said.

Board Chairman Jim Dumm said he’s concerned what the federal budget sequester may do to Title I funds.

“It’s not just Title I,” Dozier said. There are other federal funds that the district receives, though in lesser amounts. But he added, “if you lose $50,000 in an account, that’s a position.”

That will put pressure on the district if it wants to maintain small class sizes.

How much state funding the district will receive is another factor to consider, “unless you want to raise the millage,” Dozier told school board members this week.

Board Member Arthur Lance said the amount of discussion about pre-K programs among legislators is “a sign that it’s going to eventually come.”

He also noted that the district’s enrollment has been falling. Preschool will make up those numbers. “Tell all the principals out there to keep shouting: 4-year-olds,” Lance said.

Dozier said he would like to add at least one more full-day pre-K program this year. There is a demand that will only grow if Head Start funds are cut, he said.

“I think you’ll see more and more demand,” Dozier said.

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