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The added cost of all-day kindergarten in Minnesota: cramped schools

The move to all-day kindergarten statewide this fall has many Minnesota school districts working to find new space for students.

School leaders are pleased that Minnesota lawmakers approved $134 million to fund all-day kindergarten as it gives them more time with young students, better preparing them for later grades. In the past some districts required parents to pay as much as $3,000 a year or more in tuition which meant some parents opted for free half-day programs.

With that financial barrier lifted, school officials say they need to find room for more kindergartners to spend an entire day in class.

Under the old system, many schools were able to put two half-day classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, in the same room. This fall, those half-day classes will be all-day classes, causing a space crunch for some already full schools.

In the Wayzata School District, all but one of their seven elementary schools are at capacity. The expected fall rush on all-day classes has one school moving kindergartners down the street.

"At our school we just couldn't accommodate it," said Principal Sam Frederickson of Birchview Elementary in Plymouth, Minn. "We just did not have the space."

Frederickson said in the school year that just ended, his building was already full.

It had two half-day kindergarten classes in one classroom and a full day class in another. There was yet another full-day class that had to be moved to different school.

This fall he is bringing all the kindergarten classes back under one roof – a block away from Birchview Elementary in their own wing at Central Middle School.

"In other elementary schools, they might have done something like take a computer lab out of a classroom and turn it into a kindergarten classroom," he said. "We didn't have those sorts of spaces to give away."

Frederickson expects kindergarten classes to be back in Birchview in two years, once a new elementary school is built and eases space problems throughout the district.

In February voters in the Wayzata School District approved a nearly $110 million referendum. Of that, $36 million will be used to build a new elementary school.

A total of 45 Minnesota districts have gone to voters in the last 18 months seeking property tax money to fund building projects. According to the Minnesota School Boards Association, 36 of them were related to building new schools or classrooms to help ease the expected space crunch caused by a larger crop of all-day kindergarten students.

Even though lawmakers gave schools more money for all day kindergarten, that money doesn't help schools that need to add space.

"It's true they're getting more money per student. But that's for the educational costs," said Greg Abbott, spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association. "That didn't include more money for building additions."

In the Mounds View District, school officials are taking a different approach to easing the kindergarten space crunch by preparing the old Snail Lake Elementary School for its new life as a kindergarten center.

Some of the classrooms in the building were used for storage in recent years and need a touch up. But not only will they be cleaned, they also will be equipped with new smart boards, storage space, and bathrooms -- all at a kindergartener height.

New administrative offices will be surrounded by 14 kindergarten classrooms for 300 students. A similar kindergarten center is being prepped in New Brighton, Minn.

"We're all really looking forward to it," Mounds View Superintendent Dan Hoverman said.

In the past kindergartners would have gone to their neighborhood elementary school, Hoverman said.

This fall all of the district's kindergartners will attend school in the new centers, easing the enrollment crunch at elementary schools.

The kindergartners will attend their neighborhood schools starting in first grade.