SHELTON — The district’s pre-K service is not in compliance with state mandates, and school officials cannot rule out keeping the tuition fees as the program is brought back to code.

The district’s “typical peer” pre-K program calls for an even split between students with special needs and those without. But this year’s program presently has 69 students total, 58 of whom have special needs.

Next year, officials said, as many as 65 special needs students will be eligible for the program. In order to meet Connecticut Early Learning Development Standards, the district must be ready to handle an estimated 130 students total.

The program meets in three classrooms at Mohegan School four days a week. At present, parents of regular education students pay $2,000 for the four-day program. The program is free for parents of special needs students.

“We are going to submit a plan to the state that we hope will bring us into compliance, but that could result in expanding from three to four classrooms,” schools Superintendent Chris Clouet told the Board of Education during a Feb. 10 budget workshop.

Administrators requested $24,501 to hire a fourth full-time special needs paraprofessional for the pre-K program, but Clouet said that the cost is not part of the proposed $75,271,360 education budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The Board of Education has yet to vote on Clouet’s spending proposal which then must be approved by the city.

The Board of Education is planning a vote Feb. 19.

During the workshop, board members did not appear inclined to continue charging pre-K tuition, although Clouet said it remained an option.

“We’re clearly out of compliance,” said Clouet, “and my advice would be to continue to charge tuition” to help offset the costs of bringing the pre-K program into compliance.

Board Chair Kathy Yolish said that the board two years ago began instituting the charge — $2,500 per regular education student during the 2018-19 school year reduced to $2,000 this year. Parents were angry, and Yolish said she believes families chose other options.

“I do not want to charge (parents),” said board member Kate Kutash. “What we need to do is to make the program compliant at no charge,”

Yolish added that, after visiting the pre-K classrooms this year, she noticed “an imbalance” in instruction, with students not benefiting in socialization and learning skills because of the lack of regular education students.

Clouet said Special Education Director Beth Smith is presently revamping the program and expects up to 66 special education slots will be filled.

“If everyone enrolls as projected, we would need a fourth classroom” and a fourth teacher, said Clouet.

The Shelton pre-K program is a special education program designed to provide services to students ages 3 and 4 who live in Shelton and are identified as having a disability. The district opens up spots in each of the 3s and 4s classrooms for typical peers to participate; parents are required to provide transportation.

The district uses the Connecticut Early Learning Development Standards to identify candidates who might serve as strong language, behavioral, and social skill models for disabled peers in the class.

Daily activities consist of free play, circle times on literacy and math, centers, snack time, storytime, table time to work on fine motor activities, gross motor activities work, outside play; Circle and music.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com