Arlington school district says bond needed to help alleviate pre-k pressures

New state mandated full-day pre-kindergarten comes with some funding, but not enough for the Arlington school district to make all the needed renovations and additions.

The district, which offers half-day pre-kindergarten, expects the early childhood offering to double the required classroom space.

Texas requires school districts offer pre-kindergarten to students who are economically disadvantaged, have limited English skills, are homeless, have a parent in the military or who was injured or killed in action, are in foster care or have a parent who has received the Star of Texas Award — a commendation for first-responders.

To make the district ready for the increase in enrollment, officials plan to renovate 75 classrooms. That number may change as the district gathers more information, such as updated enrollment estimates.

The state law requiring the switch to full-day pre-kindergarten took effect with the start of the fall semester, but Arlington has been granted extra time to make campuses ready for their new students.

The renovations are expected to cost around $44 million, but district officials said some of that money will also be used to update or replace 10 gymnasiums that don’t meet standards for space or construction.

That’s one reason the district is asking voters to approve a nearly $1 billion bond proposal on Tuesday. Under the law requiring full-day pre-kindergarten, the state will pay for things like staffing, toys and some equipment — which the district expects to total around $9.9 million — but renovations or additions needed to meet the new state standard will come from the district.

One of the biggest needs is in-class bathrooms. Jackeline Orsini, the district director of early childhood learning, said the bathrooms are necessary for safety and practicality even though they are not required by the state.

“If we don’t have a bathroom in the classroom we can’t just send a pre-k student wandering down the hall by themselves,” Orsini said. “The teacher would have to stop everything and take the whole class to the bathroom. And if you know anything about kids this young, it’s that they always have to use the bathroom.”

The increase in enrollment will add challenges with space. Ryan Pierce, a district spokesman, said some of that will be solved with the gymnasium renovations. Some of the campus gyms, which need to be replaced because they are either too small or do not meet standards, can be renovated into classroom space, he said. That will help cut down on the amount of money needed.

About 3,450 pre-kindergarten students attend classes in Arlington. The district expects to have space for 4,100 students with all-day pre-k.

Single-parent homes or those where both parents work haven’t been able to make use of pre-kindergarten offerings as easily because it is only half-day, Orsini said.

“If you’re working full time, you can’t just leave to pick your child up and care for the for half the day, or wait until halfway through the day to drop them off,” Orsini said.

James Hartley is the Arlington city government reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is passionate about local politics, true stories, movies and baseball. He has worked for the Tyler Morning Telegraph, D Magazine and the Dallas Observer. You can connect with James on Twitter @ByJamesHartley or Instagram @JamesTakesPhotos. Want reporters like James to help you stay informed about your community? You can help the Star-Telegram continue to offer great local, political, sports and culture news by purchasing a digital or print subscription today.