Friday, November 28, 2014

Can popular West Franklin program survive?

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 7/21/2014

POMONA — It’s a question of dollars and sense: Can West Franklin continue a costly, but beneficial summer and after-school enrichment program?

In a recent school board meeting that saw Tim Matthias tapped as school board president and Matt Froggatte as vice president, the board discussed tough decisions hanging over a district program that aims to help at-risk youth by providing activities and adult supervision during the summer and after school.

POMONA — It’s a question of dollars and sense: Can West Franklin continue a costly, but beneficial summer and after-school enrichment program?

In a recent school board meeting that saw Tim Matthias tapped as school board president and Matt Froggatte as vice president, the board discussed tough decisions hanging over a district program that aims to help at-risk youth by providing activities and adult supervision during the summer and after school.

The program began three years ago when the school district received The 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, which was meant to last five years, Michelle Graf, West Franklin High School teacher and librarian, said. The program begins its fourth year at West Franklin in August, she said, but the amount of money awarded for the fourth and fifth year were less than the three previous because the grant was meant to become a self-sustaining program — a notion that becomes increasing infeasible as West Franklin loses its student population to other districts.

The grant totaled about $450,000 in state funding, according to Herald archives, but the first three years, the district was set to receive $100,000, and the fourth and fifth years, it was set receive $80,000 and $70,000, respectively. Graf said the state warned the school district that it would only be funding $60,000 of the fourth-year allowance.

“What I’m asking of [the board], is that the district either pick up part of that $19,000 that we lost, or, if the district doesn’t think it can do that, I need some direction where to go, because we can’t offer the same services that we have with losing that $19,000.”

The summer and after-school enrichment program has consistently run over-capacity, which forced the hiring of more staff, Graf said.

“The enrollment of the grant was originally written for 50, and we have always run about 50,” Graf said. “The consensus has always been to allow everyone who wants to participate to come.”

With the program’s insolvency on the horizon, board members discussed the possibility of continuing the program with a charge for users. Lisa Reece, board member, said patrons shouldn’t rely on free programs.

“I’m sorry, we all need to tighten our belts,” Reece said. “People are going to have to realize that if you want these things, the money is going to have to come from somewhere. It doesn’t grow on a tree. You are wanting all of this, and you’re not willing to put money into the district. I think we need to start putting a cap on [the program’s enrollment].”

Capping enrollment could cause more problems, Froggatte said, since the district is losing overall enrollment while the enrichment program increases in popularity.

“If you cut it and you cap it, and then you have a kid that was able to participate and isn’t able to participate this year, I don’t know how you answer that question,” Froggatte said. “But to me, I see a program that is on its way up in a district that is declining. And then we say we can’t put any money into that. That’s what I see.”

West Franklin’s patrons need to own the problem and solve it themselves, Reece said, without asking the district to provide free programs.

“I don’t care if its a minimal payment; you need to put something of yourself into — ownership — to own it, so you own your own problem,” Reece said. “I feel like in this district say ‘We need this; We need that; Everything for free,’ and no one wants to own part of the solution. That makes me mad.”

Asking for parents or guardians to pay for a program meant to help students could cause problems, Robert Allen, West Franklin Learning Center principal, said. If the board forced parents to pay for the program, then its use would shrink, he said. Removing the program entirely could hurt overall district enrollment because other area school districts offer similar after-school and summer programs, he said.

“I understand some people use it as a babysitting service, and I’m OK with that, because I know these kids are safe and have structure and good activities,” Allen said. “But the idea of people contributing — that will kill it.”

The school board didn’t need to make an immediate decision on the program, Graf said, though the issue was added as an agenda item to the board’s August meeting.

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