By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
WARSAW, Ill. -- Christmas came early to the Warsaw School District with a state grant to help fund the preschool program.
The $53,000 grant, secured with help from Regional Superintendent John Meixner, "essentially saved our program," Superintendent Matt Runge said. "We were looking at possibly not having pre-kindergarten next year, but with this and more help with the Regional Office of Education, I'm sure we will be able to continue next year."
The district provides preschool this year to 36 students with morning and afternoon sessions.
"We've had pre-K here for many years, but the past two we have been operating without grant funding. It was just district funds," Runge said. With growing budget concerns, "we've got to cut corners where we can."
As finances tightened, the district contacted Meixner to see if the regional office could do an "upward amendment" of its pre-K grant and talked with the Illinois State Board of Education.
"Their upward amendment was approved," Runge said. "This is going to be a big help to us."
The funds will be used toward this year's program, and "it's a continuation grant," Runge said. "We'll receive a like amount next year. It may not be the same amount. It depends on what the state does with cuts for pre-K."
The grant provides about half of what's needed to fund the program for a full year.
"We're going to continue to work with the ROE," Runge said. "Our goal is for it to be fully funded. We'll continue to work with them to see if we can get that done for next year."
Meixner said preschool programs are important to youngsters in Hancock and McDonough counties.
"We couldn't let Warsaw miss out on this opportunity, so we worked closely with the State Board of Education to ensure they got the funding they needed," he said in a news release. "Every day, our office works to ensure schools have every chance to meet their needs and improve our children's education. We proudly point to this grant as another example where we are successfully meeting the challenge."
Meixner's efforts will help Warsaw continue to see the benefits provided by the preschool program.
"There's strong support for pre-K from the community and the board as well," Runge said. "That's why we continued without grant funding. That's how much we value that program."