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Borough Mayor vetoes preschool funding; Assembly will decide whether to override on Tuesday

by Phillip Manning ~ May 19th, 2014

Nearly two weeks ago when the Mat-Su Borough Assembly passed its budget for the fiscal year beginning in 2015, Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said he didn’t immediately see any items he would attempt to veto, but did not rule out the possibility of it happening.  Last week, the mayor decided he would veto one item, $350,000 for Pre-Kindergarten education. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

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In a memo to the Borough Clerk, Mayor DeVilbiss says a $350,000 preschool appropriation could lead to more spending in the future, especially if the state grants that normally fund the program are not renewed.    Also, he says that pre-Kindergarten education is best handled by a combination of parents and the private sector.  In last week’s memo, he says, “Public school is no place for four year old kids.”

Matthew Beck disagrees.  He’s the Assembly Member for District 2 in the Lower Valley, and introduced the additional Pre-K funding into the budget.  Beck says his position on the additional funding has not changed, and that borough residents agree with him.

“As a matter of fact, I’ve heard from many, many people, and I’d say nine out of ten email messages that have been coming through–and phone calls–are in favor of continuing the funding for the next year–in favor of overturning the veto.”

Mayor DeVilbiss says he has spoken with legislators and state officials in Juneau, and that Pre-K is regarded as “glorified day care.”  He says that could mean future funding may be hard to come by.  Dr. Deena Paramo, School Superintendent for the Mat-Su, says that she is confident that the district will get additional preschool funding in the future.

“I absolutely do.  We are highly competitive.  We’re looked [at] around the state as a very innovative and progressive district, and part of that is because we don’t try to duplicate other programs.  Like, with this one, we’re partnering with Head Start.”

Dr. Paramo says the goal is to close the gap in areas that Head Start, the federal preschool program, does not cover.  Currently, there are Head Start schools in Palmer, Wasilla, and Meadow Lakes, with a program beginning in Sutton next year.  Big Lake, Willow, and Talkeetna all rely on other funding sources for their Pre-K programs.  She says that the legislative grant that normally funds the programs did not go through this year, so the school district went to the Assembly to ask for the funds.

“When the borough was looking to fund things, we just said, ‘This was already a priority of our board, would you fund it at $350,000?’ We were thrilled that the Assembly passed it 7-0, and it was just a concern of the mayor’s.  We hope to convince him otherwise.”

Matthew Beck says he believes the $350,000 appropriation for Pre-K education is a good investment.

“I think we really want to support [preschool] and build that.  We’re putting a lot of effort into building things like [Port Mackenzie], KABATA, a lot of infrastructure.  Why wouldn’t we build something that’s successful and put our efforts into this, as well?”

Superintendent Paramo says that funding for preschool has been a priority of the Mat-Su School Board for the past few years.  While the board has not taken a position on the veto, specifically, they have expressed support for the program in the past.  Dr. Donna Dearman, a member of the School Board, says that Pre-K is very different from daycare, and that losing the funding would be a loss to the students of the Upper Valley.  Matthew Beck agrees, citing nationwide studies showing that the benefits Pre-K can last into adulthood.

“I think the biggest dividend, and the biggest reason for preschool, isn’t, ‘Are they successful at knowing their colors and letters by the time they’re in the first grade or second grade?’  I think the biggest dividend is the money it will save us in the long run by the fact that these children go on to lead successful lives.”

When the Borough Assembly meets Tuesday evening, five of the seven Borough Assembly members will need to agree in order to overturn the mayoral veto.  Since the Assembly voted unanimously to include the funding in the first place, Matthew Beck believes that the votes are still there to keep Pre-K funding for this year.

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