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VPK program not available at city charter schools this year

By Staff | Jul 17, 2019

When school start this August, Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten will not be offered by the city of Cape Coral’s municipal charter school system.

The free program designed to prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten will no longer be offered at Oasis Elementary and Christa McAuliffe Elementary schools for financial reasons, officials said.

The decision was made near the beginning of the last school year.

… “beginning Aug. 1, 2019, Oasis Elementary and Christa McAuliffe Elementary will turn their VPK classrooms into kindergarten only rooms,” Superinten-dent Jacquelin Collins said in a letter that notified parents with children enrolled in the four-school system that also includes a middle and high school. “This conversion will result in a significant amount of additional funding to our schools, as well as help reduce extensive kindergarten waiting lists. Moving forward, one of our charter school system goals will be to focus on increasing our kindergarten enrollment.”

The letter also stated that the city of Cape Coral Charter School Authority has “nurtured positive partnerships with community providers who also offer VPK services.” Those providers, Collins wrote are “willing to help your family make a smooth transition to another site.”

Cape Coral City Councilmem-ber Jennifer Nelson, who serves Council’s liaison with the Authority, said she thinks everyone on the governing board agrees that it is very unfortunate that they can longer offer Voluntary Pre-K.

“I know that it was a very difficult decision to end the VPK program. We want to provide everything we can for our kids. It was strictly a financial decision. We really had to look at figuring out where we could not lose money,” she said. “We are hoping down the road we will be able to bring it back at some point . . . not in the near, or far future.”

Nelson said they will use the money they are saving by discontinuing the VPK program for other programs and initiatives that do not cost the Charter School Authority money, but rather enhance the schools.

She said she brought in Child Care of Southwest Florida CEO Chris Hansen to meet with Collins to offer their VPK program in the schools, but they could not accommodate him with the space he needs.

“We’ve had to expand. The numbers have come up in the last year and a half,” she said of students.

Nelson said they have spent a great deal of their time trying to make the city-operated schools sustainable.

That includes a hard look at expenses.

Fleet maintenance is at the top of the list.

Nelson said they have not been properly maintaining their buses for many years.

“When I got on the board 18 months ago I took that on as a board member and council person to get assistance (on what we were) able to do on our fleet,” Nelson said.

The system has been spending an awful lot of money on keeping buses on the road, or finding rentals when they were being repaired. Nelson said they looked into fixing deferred maintenance on the vehicles because of the money spent on fixing them. When they are maintained and the old ones are sold, repair expenses go down, she explained.

Additional dollars were expended fixing the fleet, which was done with the help of the city, which guided the school system through the process, as well as educated them.

“Now we have a wonderful director of transportation. He is doing a fantastic job in analyzing and looking at these buses moving forward and what we are going to do long term,” she said.