Published in the January 27, 2016 edition


WAKEFIELD — Tuition rates for the Doyle Preschool will be going up for the September 2016 – June 2017 school year after the School Committee voted last night to approve the tuition hikes. But the vote was not unanimous, with members Evan Kenney and Rob Tiro the dissenting votes. The other five members of the School Committee voting to approve the school administration’s recommended tuition increases were Christopher Callanan, Anne Danehy, Thomas Markham, Greg Liakos and Chairman Kate Morgan.
The increases for the preschool program were laid out in a memorandum from School Business Administrator Michael Pfifferling.
For half-day attendance two days a week the tuition will increase from $1,000 per year to $1,250 for the year.
For half-day, three days a week the tuition will go from $1,500 to $1,875.
For half-day, five days a week the rate will increase from $2,500 to $3,125.
For full-day attendance, five days a week, the annual tuition will increase from $5,000 to $6,250.
Pfifferling also provided the School Committee with a comparison of Wakefield’s pre-school tuition rates and those of Stoneham, Lynnfield, Andover, Natick, Melrose, Newburyport and Winchester. He said that the chart showed that Wakefield had the lowest tuition in two of the categories, the second lowest in one of the categories and the fourth lowest in one of the categories (full-day, five days a week).
Pfifferling’s figures showed the average annual tuition among the communities for half-day, two day a week attendance was $2,124, compared to Wakefield’s $1,250, including next year’s increase.
For full-day, five days a week, the average tuition is $6,297 compared to Wakefield’s $6,250 (with next year’s increase).
The projected revenue for the current school year (without the increase) is $317,000, Pfifferling said. With the increase staring next September, that revenue would go up $80,135 to $397,135 according to Pfifferling’s projections.
“While the new rates proposed appear to be a modest percentage,” Pfifferling said, “our program continues to rely heavily on local budget funds to remain balanced.”
Callanan pointed out that when the Doyle Preschool was put in place it was was with a known deficit and the understanding that as the program became more established it would need to become more self-sufficient. He said that the propose increase was a progressive step toward that.
Smith noted that Wakefield would still be the the least expensive pre-school around.
Pfifferling said that he did not think that the preschool would ever be self-sufficient as special education costs are not subsidized by tuition.
Tiro said that he had a problem with raising tuition without providing a commensurate increase in the quality of the program.
But Smith said that in FY 2016 curriculum and enrichment was added to programs at every school including the Doyle.
Kenney said that he did not see a 25 percent increase in tuitions as “gradual.” He wondered if increasing funding for preschool out of the school department budget would hurt other K-12 programs.
Danehy said that it was always the intent that existing K-12 programs would not be sacrificed to support the Doyle.
Markham said that the increase amounts to about $7 a day, from $27 to $34. Private schools would be well above that, he said. He likened the amount of the increase to the cost of “a cup of coffee and a muffin.”
Tiro said that he was also bothered by the idea that the plan to increase tuitions may not have been adequately communicated to parents with children in the pre-school program. He said that he could not support the increase without knowing that people were told in advance.
But Smith said that it was made clear to parents that rates were being looked at and that tuition increases were possible.
Liakos said that every parent knows that costs increase from year-to-year. To Tiro’s point, he wondered why an tuition increase would be communicated to parents before it was voted by the School Committee.
Pfifferling said that parents have expressed what a bargain the preschool program is.
Callanan noted that just to cover inflation and overhead costs, tuitions would have to go up. But Kenney countered that it was not fair to say that inflation drives up costs by 25 percent.
“What is the dire need here?” he asked, “Are we in jeopardy of losing other programs?”
Pfifferling said that early indications are that the School Department budget for FY 2017 will be tight and that a lot of needs will not be met within the budget.
Smith said that the tuition increase was part of the School Department’s effort to be fiscally responsible.