Huntsville City Schools postpones vote on Pre-K tuition

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Thursday Huntsville City Schools postponed a decision about whether to start charging tuition for pre-kindergarten.

The plan, outlined at their previous board meeting, is necessary to keep from having to cut Pre-K programs as the district works through a difficult financial situation. It is expected to save the district $1.4 million out of its general fund financial officers said Thursday. Currently, the district pays $3.3 million out of its general fund to fund its Pre-K program classrooms. Parents do not pay a cent of tuition for the Pre-K as it stands now.

The new proposal would use Title 1 funds to pay for Pre-K teacher and instructional assistant salaries at Title 1 Pre-K classrooms. That would ensure families of Pre-K students at Title 1 schools would not pay tuition. But a sliding scale would be implemented for students at non-Title 1 schools.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to postpone their vote on the proposal after board member Michelle Watkins raised concerns about how using Title 1 funds for Pre-K would affect other Title schools in the district, including schools she represents: Jemison High and McNair Junior High.

She worried that using Title 1 funds to pay for Pre-K would skim crucial funding from the middle and high schools that do not house Pre-K classrooms but still need money.

"This gives me heartburn because there are a lot of things Jemison and McNair need and we are going to take $112,000 of their Title 1 funds to help fund Pre-K," she stated. "I do understand it'll give the kids a head-start, but I'm talking about the kids right now that we have to help."

She asked the superintendent to speak to administrators and gather more information about the impact this may have on school budgets.

"I don't want to give them a surprise," Watkins stated.

Superintendent Christie Finley said she does not anticipate a problem with waiting for the board to vote.

"I don't have a problem with circling back and seeing what exactly that cost is," Superintendent Finley said.

Finley stated that it's a priority to maintain the Pre-K program the district has now.

"I want to find some solution so we can still maintain the outstanding Pre-K program we have. I do know the Office of School Readiness also wants to ensure that as well. But we can take a look at exactly what the expenses would be, overhead, and also per school, what that would look like."

Finley said those discussions would take place Friday.

Meanwhile, the board set a target date of April 18 to vote on the Pre-K proposal.

This comes as the district deals with difficult financial times following a $5.5 million dollar accounting error discovered last year.

Thursday, attorneys also revealed they are also in on the district's effort to save money. They are giving the district a 10% discount on legal fees.

The school system is also considering charging 20% more for outside organizations that want to use space in its facilities.

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