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Preston preschool classes full despite new fee policy

August 29, 2018 GMT

Preston — Preschool students learned how to get in a line for lunch, played with wooden letter puzzles, formed a circle on a colorful rug and started making new friends Wednesday, oblivious to the bitter budget battle that centered on their program over the summer.

“They’re excited to learn,” eight-year preschool teacher Gloria Berek said as her students opened their lunch bags and settled into their seats in the Preston Veterans’ Memorial School cafeteria. “They love coming to school. For many of them, it’s their first experience with school.”

Some residents who opposed the initial 60 to 11.8 million budget wasn’t settled until Aug. 21, the fees have been waived until Oct. 1, when the state’s official enrollment numbers are recorded.

The state does not mandate preschool, but the state Department of Education reported that 18,737 students were enrolled in preschool in the 2017-18 school year, up from 16,979 five years earlier. No data was available on which towns have free programs, funded either by taxpayers, grants or fees to families.

Berek had 17 students and fellow preschool teacher Natalie Rudyk, who switched from kindergarten to preschool this year, had 19 students on the first day Wednesday. Both said they love teaching the school’s youngest students, watching them grow throughout the year and prepare for kindergarten.

In full-day preschool, students will learn to recognize letters and their sounds, count to 20, take music and physical education and learn how to socialize with friends and adults.

“Social skills are important,” Berek said, “interacting with friends, how to have a friend, be a friend.”

Parents and preschool students went to Veterans’ Memorial on Monday to tour the school, meet their teachers and to take their first rides on a school bus. The buses went from the elementary school on Route 165 to the Preston Plains Middle School at the junction of routes 164 and 2.

Several parents of preschoolers interviewed Monday had mixed feelings about the new fee scale. Some said it was either the same or less expensive than other child care options, and some objected to the lack of advanced notice about the fee system. The budget didn’t pass until Aug. 21, when the fee officially was put in place.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Courtney Ennis, mother of 4-year-old Nico, who entered preschool Wednesday. “I’m fine with it. I wish we had more notice than two weeks and had time to prepare.”

Nico, her only child, said he was nervous during the orientation day Monday but “he doesn’t seem to be,” Courtney Ennis said.

Laura Luna, mother of 3-year-old Liam Luna, called the new fee “an annoyance” but said she understood the position of taxpayers wanting to cut costs during the budget debate. The fee will be about what she had paid for child care at Play & Learn Child Development next door to the school on Winiger Drive. Luna said she brought Liam to the school playground during the summer, so he should feel comfortable on school grounds already.

“He ended up with three of his best friends in his class, so he’s happy about that,” Laura Luna said.