About 20 residents — most identifying themselves as parents of next year’s pre-K class — showed up at the Glen Ridge Board of Education meeting last night where the first topic of discussion was the possibility of charging tuition for the program. √¢‚Ǩ≈ìPay for pre-K√¢‚Ǩ¬ù has become an option only since the state passed new legislation this past summer. Glen Ridge is one of a handful of non-Abbott districts that offer free pre-K, and several of the parents said they had moved to Glen Ridge specifically for this reason.

A Hillside Ave resident said that he had been paying into the system for seven or eight years, and, now that it was his turn, he would get no benefit from it if the system were changed. Additionally, if a change were implemented for the 2005-2006 school year, some parents would have a double hit since the election forms for 2005 Daycare Flexible Spending Accounts were due last week. The FSAs allow parents to pay for pre-K tuition with pre-tax dollars, but they are very inflexible. Parents who have not already allocated monies to a Daycare FSA for 2005 would be paying the fall tuition bill with after-tax monies.

A major concern is whether charging tuition would decimate the existing program by encouraging Glen Ridge parents to look elsewhere for pre-K. The ongoing existence of the pre-K program, meanwhile, allows Glen Ridge to mainstream classified students locally rather than send them to another district as mandated by the state. Without a local pre-K, these students would likely be sent out of district at a cost of more than $30,000 per student.

None of the residents in attendance spoke in favor of tuition for pre-K.

Board member Sharon Dougherty stressed that the only reason tuition is being discussed is that “we need the money.”

Even if a decision is made to charge tuition, there would still be many issues to be worked out. Would it be full or partial tuition? Would it apply to the 2005-2006 school year or be postponed to 2006-2007? What administrative costs are involved in charging tuition?

The larger issue of overall school financing will be the topic of a forum this Thursday at the Ridgewood Avenue School Auditorium. An Education Forum: Public Education v. Let’s Address the Real Cost Drivers – Schools Are Not the Culprits! will be sponsored by the Glen Ridge Public Schools, The Glen Ridge Borough Council and The Garden State Coalition of Schools. Recent and pending state legislation affecting school budgets will be discussed.

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