Editorial: Las Lomitas misses point on kindergarten | October 30, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - October 30, 2013

Editorial: Las Lomitas misses point on kindergarten

The Las Lomitas School District is ignoring a state law that requires all school districts to provide a transitional kindergarten program, claiming that it would give 25 percent of its students a free year of school. The district is one of only 4 percent of schools statewide that does not offer transitional kindergarten.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act, passed by the Legislature in 2010, changes the date by which a child must turn 5 in order to enter kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, a shift designed to make sure children are better prepared for kindergarten and to conform to the cut-off date in other states. The Las Lomitas district is basing its position on the interpretation of its attorney, Deputy San Mateo County Counsel Eugene Whitlock, who does not believe the program is mandatory. This interpretation is contrary to that of Joe Simitian, a state senator in 2010 (and now a Santa Clara County supervisor) who was instrumental in the law's passage. Mr. Simitian told the Almanac: "The clear intent and expectation is that TK (transitional kindergarten) is required in every K-12 school setting. That is borne out by the clear direction on the California Department of Education website."

Richard Ginn, the Las Lomitas board president, clearly does not agree, citing the county counsel's opinion, which runs counter to virtually every other school district in the state. Mr. Ginn apparently decided not to bring the transitional kindergarten decision before the board again as requested by some parents, possibly for another vote. A link to transitional kindergarten on the district's website did not work, one parent told the Almanac.

The Las Lomitas position differs from that of several neighboring districts, although the Menlo Park City district has plans to reconsider its adoption of transitional kindergarten early next year. But other local districts, in Woodside and Portola Valley, have welcomed the new kindergarten project.

A major problem with Las Lomitas' decision is that it did not state its intention to ignore the Readiness Act on its website or anywhere else prior to making its decision. As a result, parents deciding where to live and when their children could start kindergarten made irrevocable decisions that counted on Las Lomitas offering transitional kindergarten.

It appears that Las Lomitas may be more interested in shrinking the number of kindergarten students at its elementary school campus by holding off on offering space for children who were born between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2. The result, some parents say, is that they are forced to send their child to daycare for another year at great expense, while the district, which is facing a huge growth in enrollment, is able to delay that bulge for three years.

Not all districts are trying to skirt the law. Beth Polito, superintendent of the 451-student, one-school Woodside Elementary School District, has embraced the two-year kindergarten program. She sees it as a way for the district to save money by reducing the number of children who repeat a grade and who may require expensive special services. Even if a judge said the program is not legally required, Ms. Polito said, her district would continue with transitional kindergarten. Why? "Because it is the right thing to do for kids."

It is odd that Las Lomitas and Mr. Ginn have chosen to stiff-arm this new law just as the district is going out to get voter approval for a $60 million bond issue, whose mantra is "More classrooms for our kids."

Las Lomitas should reconsider its misguided approach and implement the transitional kindergarten program for the next school year. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it very likely will pay off in future years by reducing the number of students repeating a grade, and give school staff time to work with children experiencing difficulties earlier.

In addition, the state Department of Education should obtain a legal ruling to reinforce the declaration made on its website: "Each elementary or unified school district must offer transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes for all children eligible to attend."

The language should be ironclad, and not subject to the whim and interpretation of school districts or their attorneys.


Posted by California Department of Education has Taken Position Districts Not offering TK are Breaking the Law, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 30, 2013 at 6:27 pm

The California Department of Education website text that all districts must offer transitional kindergarten has passed the department's legal review.

Other sources include a department spokesperson saying, “To us, it’s clear that
public schools and charter schools must offer Transitional Kindergarten. This is the law; it’s what’s best for kids.” EdSource, “Charters and state at odds over Transitional Kindergarten” (Sept. 7, 2012), available at www.edsource.org.

Charter school lobbying groups raised the funding issue that Las Lomitas used in spring 2012. That argument was rejected by the California Department of Education. From an independent legal analysis done during the Charter school debate (you can replace "charter schools" with "basic aid districts":

"Those who argue that charter schools are not required to provide transitional
kindergarten point only to the statutory language which states that “[a]s a condition of receipt of apportionment for pupils in a transitional kindergarten program” a child who will have her fifth birthday between November 2 and December 2 “shall be admitted” to a transitional kindergarten.(Ed. Code, § 48000(c).) They argue this language means charter schools that are willing to forego funding for such students do not have to admit them to transitional kindergarten. (Id., § 48000(c).)

That language, however, is the same as the language that appears elsewhere in the
Education Code to authorize financial penalties as a means of ensuring compliance. Thus, for example, the same language appears in the provision that requires charter schools “as a condition of apportionment” to provide the specified minimum number of minutes of instruction and certify that pupils have participated in the state testing system. (Id., § 47612.5(a).) The language making the requirement “a condition of apportionment” merely means that charter schools can be subject to financial penalties if, for example, they fail to offer the required minutes of
instruction. (Id., § 47612.5(c).)5 However, compliance remains mandatory; for example, it cannot be waived by the State Board of Education even if the charter school agrees to give up its state funding in return. (Id., § 47612.5(e)(4).)

Charter schools are public schools. Public schools in this state are required to
offer kindergarten to age-eligible students, including those who, because of their birth date, are deemed by the Legislature to require a two-year kindergarten program. All public schools, including charter schools, must offer their students a substantially equal education. At a minimum, this means charter schools that offer kindergarten cannot refuse to enroll students who fall within the age requirements and cannot offer the youngest of those students only a one-year traditional kindergarten program when all other public schools are offering a two-year program
with a specialized transitional curriculum for the first year. Failure to do so not only subjects the charter school to financial penalties from the state, but also puts it in violation of the constitutional free public school and equal protection guarantees.

4 That cut-off moves to October in 2013-14, and September in 2014-15. (Ed. Code, § 48000(c).)

5 This reading is further confirmed by Education Code section 46201.2, enacted in response to the recent budget crises, which allows districts and charter schools to “reduce the equivalent of up to five days of instruction or the equivalent number of instructional minutes without incurring the penalties set forth in Sections 41420, 46200, 46200.5, 46201, 46202, and 47612.5.” (Ed. Code, § 46201.2(a))."

Posted by local parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 30, 2013 at 7:44 pm

What is the point of CA Education comments? We don't have a charter school, are you meaning to inform us that there is a financial penalty for not including the Transitional Kindergarten?

Posted by California Department of Education has Taken Position Districts Not offering TK are Breaking the Law, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:50 pm

To local parent:

My comment addresses whether transitional kindergarten is mandatory or not.

Las Lomitas School District is making the same argument that the charter school lobbyists made that has been rejected--that if you don't take funding you aren't required to offer transitional kindergarten. This argument was rejected by the California Department of Education legal department.

Both basic aid districts and charter schools must provide transitional kindergarten under the law, despite neither receiving state funds to do so.

The analysis above for the charter school situation applies to the situation of a basic aid district such as Las Lomitas.

Posted by Parent in LLESD, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Kids you turn five in the fall (after Sep. 1), and the following winter, spring and summer quarters enter kindergarten after they have turned five. It seems to me to be obvious that if we are going to limit prekindergarten to just three months it should be the youngest four year-old kids, those that will turn 5 just before entering kindergarten, that is the summer birthday kids, not the oldest, fall birthday kids. The current view that transitional kindergarten is just for the fall birthday kids turns the purpose of prekindergarten on its head. If a community believes that prekindergarten is worthwhile then it should be for ALL of the prekindergarten kids, not just the oldest ones. However, this would require additional financing and I'm not sure the state of California is up to financing a fair and equitable prekindergarten year. This would also be a funding challenge for basic aid districts as the additional year of education would come without any additional funding.

Posted by another, a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I empathize with the idea that if TK is to be mandated, that it should be mandated for all of the pre-K kids, not just a fortunate 1/4 of the class who will be provided an extra year of district funded education, really I do.

That being said, that's not what was enacted into law and the LLESD attempt to avoid its legal obligation is not reasonable.

The basic aid funds that LLESD receives IS their apportionment even if directly paid from their own property tax revenues. Objecting parents really should be appealing to the CDE to enforce the district's obligations by withholding the proportional amount that would have been funded for TK from other categorical funds provided by the state.

As for the folks who are whining that it is so horrible that their basic aid district will have to ever so modestly dilute their funds upon a few additional kids (but really no more than they have historically been paying for since as that was really the whole point of this screwy legislation -- avoiding to state or district windfalls), to those complainers I say there is a simple solution, don't be a basic aid district. Be like the other 95% of the districts in the state who don't get funds that exceed the state's revenue grant funds.

In other words, when you're sitting pretty relative to the other 95%, perhaps it would be wisest to not call attention to yourself lest others be reminded that there remain inequities in the state's funding system.

Posted by Las Lomitas Makes Money off Denying TK to Parents, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 4, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Las Lomitas sent out a flyer to its current parents offering a for-profit pre-K program by "Champions" corporation on Las Lomitas property. Add this to the Woodland Schools "junior kindergarten" offered on property leased by Las Lomitas to them and the pre-K program offered by Philips Brooks Academy at facilities leased to them by, you guessed it, Las Lomitas. Is Las Lomitas a public school or a just out to maximize the profit of its assets. Those getting turned away from state-required pre-K should ask how much of a cut is Las Lomitas getting from turning them away?

We need answers as to what ties the board has to the private pre-schools. Las Lomitas can send a flyer to parents about private preschool but can't inform its parent community about its decision to thumb its nose at the pre-K law and won't even publicly discuss the issue. Where's the compliance with the Brown Act for open meetings?

Posted by supporter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 7, 2013 at 8:30 am

Oh, please -- give me a break ithe ridiculous conspiracy theories. I am glad that Las Lomitas is trying to spend taxpayer money in the the fairest and most effective way possible. If they spend money on TK, they have to take it from the funds for all the other students.. There is nothing fair about taking funds away from all the other students to givie an extra year of Kindergarten to only the oldest 1/4th of students. And if one were going to only give an additional year of kindergarten to 1/4th of kids based on birth date, you'd pick the youngest, not the oldest 1/4th!

Posted by Supporter of TK, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Nov 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

To "Supporter"

The time to debate the merits of the law was in 2008-2010 before it was passed overwhelmingly by the legislature. You might not like the law, but it is the law.

I agree there is no "conspiracy" to provide for-profit transitional kindergarten on Las Lomitas property, but it is sadly ironic that they are promoting transitional kindergarten for those who can afford it.

There is an issue with open government that the Las Lomitas Board needs to address. The Las Lomitas board never public announced or recorded in its minutes that it decided not to offer transitional kindergarten. The Brown Act defines an "action taken" as including a decision to not take an action, just for cases like this. Either the clerk of the board didn't understand his or her obligation to put the decision in the minutes or purposefully left them out. Either way it is a violation of the Brown Act.

I don't think it is a good use of taxpayer money for the Las Lomitas board to spend it on lawsuits over this issue. There's a reason none of the other 860 districts this affects have NOT taken it to court and the charter schools backed off on their challenge. It would be a waste of money.

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