For months, Rolla Superintendent of Schools Dr. Aaron Zalis has been talking to anyone who will listen about the possibility of an early childhood center.

For months, Rolla Superintendent of Schools Dr. Aaron Zalis has been talking to anyone who will listen about the possibility of an early childhood center.
Now, he has taken the dialogue—and that is what it is because he also wants to find out what you think and will give you the opportunity to tell him—to the internet.
Speaking to the Rolla Board of Education Thursday night, Zalis said a video presentation and a survey form were posted on the district’s website,, about 10 days ago. So far, some 50 people have responded to the online survey.
Zalis Thursday night also briefly went over the slide presentation he put together months back and has updated over time. He said it, too, will be available on the website.
The slideshow explains that the administration and board are considering two ways to accomplish offering an early childhood education.
One way would be a new building to be used for children in kindergarten and for preschoolers. This would require money for land, construction and operation.
The other way would be to remodel one of the existing elementary school buildings for use as a center for kindergartners and 4-year-olds.
Four-year-olds would be the new target group for the early childhood center, at least initially, and it would cost parents to enroll those children, although there would be a sliding-scale fee program. Zalis is quick to point out the district is not trying to put the preschool programs, many of them operated by churches, out of business.
“We are working with the faith-based centers,” he said. “Our purpose is not to compete but to enhance.”
The district seeks to reach the pupils who enter kindergarten without preschool education, for today’s kindergartners are expected to have an extensive set of skills when they enter.
Zalis figures on starting with 170 4-year-olds in either of the two alternatives.
That first alternative, the new building, would require land purchase, and Zalis estimates that to be $700,000. Construction would be $11.2 million and it would take about $1.3 million a year to staff it.
The stand-alone early childhood center would be used to teach about 170 4-year-olds, preparing them for kindergarten, along with the 350-360 kindergartners now spread through three schools.
The early childhood center would also relocate all existing preschool programs in the district to the center. These include the Parents as Teachers program, the Bulldog Pre-School at the high school that serves 24 students and has a long waiting list, and the early childhood special education program housed at Wyman Elementary School with 40-60 district students each year.
To accomplish the second alternative, reconfiguring one of the elementary schools, some reshuffling would be needed.
The other two elementary schools would be used for grades one through three. The middle school would be for grades four through six and the junior high school would be for grades seven through eight. Grade nine would go to the high school.
The reconfigured early childhood center would be used for the 4-year-olds, the kindergartners and all the other preschool programs currently offered.
Another cost would be to build a classroom addition to the high school for the ninth grade students.
Zalis noted that 153 of 344 ninth-graders already attend classes at RHS.
The ninth-grade addition would probably cost about $12.7 million. That cost includes an auditorium that Zalis is proposing to pair up with the ninth-grade addition. An auditorium was included in a 2007 facilities plan written with public input.
“This is the last lingering part of that,” he said.
He is hoping to designate the auditorium as a storm shelter, making it eligible for a construction grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Zalis said the second alternative has been the preferred way for the people who have listened to his presentation. It’s also the preferred response on the online survey so far, he said.
That online survey is being handled by Patron Insight, the company that does the surveying of public opinion for the school district.
Zalis has made some revisions to his slideshow. Recent additions to the presentation include notations that the 2014 Comprehensive School Improvement Plan recently adopted by the board include references in four of the five focus areas to early childhood education.
The survey available on the district website will continue through October.
“By November and December we’ll have it narrowed to one (alternative),” Zalis said, who told the Daily News after the meeting that another choice online is to do nothing, and “if that’s what patrons want, that’s what we’ll do.”
If it appears, though, that most people want one of the two alternatives, the board in January 2015 will vote to place a bond issue and tax levy increase on the April ballot. If it succeeds, construction would take place during the 2016 school year and it would open in August 2017.
The cost of the early childhood center, either alternative, is not quite clear. It will take both a general obligation bond issue to raise money to pay for the construction (and land acquisition if necessary), which will require a debt service levy, and an annual operating levy to pay for the utilities, maintenance and the staff.