Changes to the city's kindergarten fee structure proposed by Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan would lower tuition costs for middle-income families during tough financial times.
Under the current sliding scale fee structure, a family of two making between $31,741 and $41,268 per year would pay $625 in full-day kindergarten fees. Under Dolan's proposal, that same family would pay $300. Families in the lower income brackets, who are currently asked to pay fees ranging from $0-$450, would pay nothing.
“This proposal is the fairest way to accomplish our goal of making full-day kindergarten accessible to as many citizens as possible, regardless of income, and at the same time have a minimal impact on the bottom line,” Dolan said at Tuesday's School Committee meeting. “In fact, the city is willing to pay for half the costs of this program to hold the schools as harmless as possible.”
Under the proposed scale, a family of two making over $53,953 would not see any change in their fees, which range from $1,875 to the maximum $2,500.
School Committee member J.D. LaRock, who has advocated for a free full-day kindergarten program in the past, praised Dolan for re-evaluating the city's fee structure at a time when many families have fallen on hard times.
“Whatever we can do...to ease the burden on families so that they have less struggle in enrolling in full-day kindergarten, that's a positive thing,” he said.
The city's current fee scale, which offers free tuition to families of five making $27,072 or less, affects less than 1.3 percent of the city's residents based on U.S. Census date for the city of Melrose, LaRock said.
“It's fair to say that we...are not actually charging very many, if any students, free tuition,” he said.
Increasing the income level for which free kindergarten is offered would help more families while maximizing the district's eligibility for state money, LaRock said. Offering free full-day tuition to families of five making $54,000 or less would impact roughly ten percent of Melrose families, and result in an extra $18,000 in state reimbursement, he added.
“I think it's fair to say a family of five in Melrose who is making $55,000 a year, that family is really hard up,” he said.
School Committee member Carrie Kourkoumelis offered her support for the proposal, while committee member Don Constatine requested that the numbers be applied to this year's kindergarten class to calculate the actual cost of the changes.
“I want to make sure that this is both affordable and the best thing we can do,” he said. “We also have a lot of other fees that impact families.”
The committee will wait to hear comments from the public on the topic during next Tuesday's budget hearing before voting on the matter.