Preschool program consolidated

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The Belen Preschool Program for Students with Disabilities will be consolidated from five locations throughout the Belen Consolidated School District to one.

Beginning in August, the preschool program will be housed in Rio Grande Elementary School's bubble building to reduce funding challenges the program faces.

Belen's Board of Education voted unanimously to decrease the number of locations for the preschool program at their May 22 meeting.

A centrally-located program would have the least amount of impact on preschool education by providing an age-appropriate educational setting while reducing funding challenges, stated a proposal submitted to board members in February.

The change would also save the district money on special service screenings and supplies.

This proposal stemmed from information highlighted in the 2010 census and a preschool budget analysis for 2012-13.

The census revealed the population of children up to age 4 in Valencia County is shrinking, translating into a decrease in the program's participants from 108 to 47, Vallejos said.

With a decreasing population of preschool students, the district will lose more than half of its funding for the program contributed by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

A projected preschool budget analysis shows the program will be receiving more than $369,000 for 2012-13, which is a 43 percent decrease compared to the $848,000 received this school year.

Funding for the preschool program costs more than $837,000 a year, the analysis states.

The program provides a half day's worth of instruction, promoting language and communication skills development through a multi-sensory instructional approach. The children are provided with developmentally appropriate activities in language, daily living skills, cognitive, fine and gross motor and social and emotional skills.

The program's shift to Rio Grande Elementary will have "minimal" effects on the school, Principal Barbara Thoms told board members.

Two second grade teachers in the bubble building will be moving to classrooms about 50 feet away.

Even though students would be traveling from schools throughout the district to the program's consolidated location, transportation times would be limited to a 45 minute to one hour bus ride, said Diane Vallejos, the district's director of special education.

Last year, the district received reports of bus rides reaching up to two hours for preschool students, but the district doesn't anticipate that will be the case for this upcoming school year, Vallejos said.

While the majority of preschool students will be riding to the Rio Grande Elementary program from Henry T. Jaramillo Community School, about 25 students will be brought in from extended locations, such as La Promesa Elementary, Gil Sanchez Elementary, La Merced Elementary and Dennis Chavez Elementary.

"Will some of the kids be on the bus a little longer?," said Vallejos.

"Yes, but we're hoping that it won't be more than 45 minutes to an hour, which is a reasonable amount of time for a student to be on a bus."


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.