Universal Pre-kindergarten Plan Being Devised For Chatham

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education , Economic development

Chatham Elementary School students arrive at the start of the school day. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — Early on, one of the key hurdles identified by local working families has been the lack of affordable early childhood education programs. The Monomoy Regional School District is exploring ways to bridge the gap by introducing a plan for universal pre-kindergarten (pre-K) for Chatham youngsters.

Last week, the Chatham 365 Task Force made its recommendations about ways the town can provide better support for year-round residents, including young families. Among the 30 recommendations was one to have the town provide taxpayer-funded universal preschool for all young children in Chatham. Now, that cost is a heavy burden for young families in town, task force members said.

According to the group’s findings, the estimated cost of caring for a Chatham youngster from infancy through fifth grade is $106,000, and for most families, child care is the second largest cost of living after housing.

The town already offers a limited child care voucher system and other resources are available, but the majority of families applying for that help in the past 20 years have had household incomes of between 50 and 80 percent of the state median income, the task force report concludes. To provide some relief, the report recommends that the Monomoy schools explore offering free pre-kindergarten services to all youngsters in town, regardless of family income.

On the night of the task force’s presentation, selectmen voted unanimously to ask Monomoy Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter to devise a plan to offer universal pre-K for Chatham youngsters starting in fiscal 2021.

On Oct. 2, Carpenter addressed the issue in an email to Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith.

“I very much appreciate the Chatham Board of Selectmen’s support and advocacy for Universal Pre-K and thank them for leading the way in such an educationally progressive manner,” he wrote. “I will have a proposal for Universal Pre-K for four-year-olds, and pricing, ready for you and your board by Dec. 1.”

Carpenter could not be reached to provide details of the plan. It was not immediately clear whether the plan involves providing universal pre-kindergarten district-wide or just in Chatham.

Carpenter’s email also addressed concerns that the district no longer allows intra-district School Choice, which Carpenter called a misconception. The district has a process for allowing Harwich elementary-age students to attend classes in Chatham and vice-versa, but only on a space-available basis, he said.

“We determine each year how many available slots we have at each grade level, in each school, and limit elementary class sizes (wherever possible) to 18 students,” the superintendent wrote. “While I’d love to add an additional section at each grade level at Chatham Elementary, there simply aren’t enough Chatham resident students and families interested in Chatham Elementary through School Choice (either intra- or inter-district) to add back a section at any grade level.”