Moorestown schools face unprecedented kindergarten enrollment issues

The Moorestown Township School District is facing an unprecedented problem. While the district anticipates an influx in enrollment each summer, two Moorestown elementary schools are already capped. George C. Baker and South Valley Elementary Schools have completely filled their kindergarten classes for the 2019-2020 school year.

At the most recent Moorestown Township Board of Education meeting, Board President Sandra Alberti said the board is now dealing with “undeniably linked” issues as it discusses the potential for full-day kindergarten and Moorestown’s space issues. While no action was taken at the meeting, Alberti said the board plans to have actionable items on its next agenda.

The conversation to full-day kindergarten came to a head a little over a year ago when the board asked administration to investigate what implementing free, full-day kindergarten would look like. Alberti said as they looked at all of the potential strategies, spacing issues kept coming up in their conversations.

Alberti said since she’s been on the board, there’s been constant construction in Moorestown, and the board has taken that into consideration. She said as they were engaged in conversations about what student enrollment might look like five and 10 years from now, they were abruptly caught off-guard with this year’s enrollment influx.

This marks the earliest that the district’s elementary schools have been capped. Alberti said they’re now facing situations where students entering kindergarten will have to go to a different school than their elementary-level siblings.

“We literally don’t have seats,” Alberti said.

Given this new information, the board is embroiled in discussions about whether to proceed with full-day kindergarten and the related ballot question it approved at last month’s meeting. To accommodate full-day kindergarten, the district is considering a nearly $21 million bond referendum that calls for reconfiguring the current grade levels, moving sixth grade from the Upper Elementary School to William Allen Middle School and adding classrooms to WAMS to make space for these students.

Alberti said, in her eyes, full-day kindergarten could potentially exacerbate the issue.

“These are issues that we have now that are particularly challenging to us, so all of this is kind of creating a different sense of urgency about what we’re doing in the elementary schools,” Alberti said.

Resident Douglas Beach inquired as to whether the issue was a matter of physical space or not.

Superintendent Scott McCartney explained that the issue is both physical space limitations as well as the district’s policy that limits kindergarten classrooms to 22 students. He said they’re not sure if registration will slow down or continue to grow, but right now, they’re getting close to cap at every elementary school.

McCartney said while they have already finalized and had their 2019 budget pre-approved, they may have to reallocate funds and add kindergarten staff if enrollment keeps up at its current rate. He said even if they do end up adding staff, the issue will become where to put everyone given the limited space.

The Moorestown Board of Education will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, May 1, at which time it will have a public hearing on the budget. The next regularly scheduled meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 21, during which board will take action in regard to the proposed referendum.