RED BANK CRAMS FOR MORE PRE-K SPACE

pre-k-paintPre-kindergarten student Leslie Herrera at Red Bank Primary School. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Demand for Red Bank’s heralded pre-kindergarten program is spiking, and the school district is on the hunt for more space — and money — to offer every three- and four-year-old in Red Bank the chance to attend.

Superintendent Laura Morana said she’s involved in serious discussion and has a “pretty good lead” to add four more classrooms at a sixth location for the borough’s scattered pre-k classroom setup to accommodate a waiting list that precluded 76 three-year-olds from getting into the program in the 2011-12 school year.

“If we can get four more classrooms then everyone in Red Bank will have the opportunity,” she said.

Getting funding to support the program, which currently costs $2.8 million and is covered by the state, is another potential challenge. But Morana said if the New Jersey Department of Education updates its enrollment projections, the money should come through in 2012-13.

“For us, working with the Department of Education, the intent of the department is to expand and continue pre-k education,” Morana said. “I am positive, and we can only operate under the assumption that the state Department of Education is committed to early childhood education. I can only see further supporting it.”

The state allocates money to the district based on enrollment estimations that proved this year to be underestimated.

Now serving 81-percent of pre-school-aged children, the district had to shut out 76 three-year-olds (an additional 11 did not complete the registration forms) for the coming school year, in part to make room for 164 four-year-olds, which is all who registered, Morana said. Because of the demand, the district, as it has in the past, held a lottery last month to determine which three-year-olds would get into the program.

“We’re not meeting the needs of every family, and we wish we could do so,” Morana said. “But the interest we had completely exceeded what we had expected.”

State projections put enrollment figures at 124 students per age group, making 248 students the maximum allowed by its funding. For ’11-12, there will be 158 four-year-olds and 90 three-year-olds enrolled, according to figures Morana handed out Thursday.

For the 2011-12 school year, 177 three-year-olds and 164 four-year-olds registered. The district cut out two three-year-old classes and added two classes to make room for the four-year-olds, Morana said.

The district is dotted with five locations for classrooms: the primary school, Head Start, Monmouth Day Care Center, St. Anthony of Padua church and the Community YMCA. Morana would not comment on where she’s looking to add the sixth location, but said, “I’ve been speaking with people and they’re very interested” to sign a lease on a space.

And she said she’s confident the state department will approve more funding to expand. There’s an October 30 deadline for the district to find out what kind of money it will receive, she said.

“We will definitely do what we need to advocate for that program,” she said.