http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2012/05/23/belle-haven-parents-protest-after-school-program-merger


Almanac

News - May 23, 2012

Belle Haven parents protest after-school program merger

by Sandy Brundage

The city wants to merge the after-school program it runs in Belle Haven with the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula, a move that could save Menlo Park about $192,000 next year. But parents of children attending the program say those savings come at too high a cost.

Community Services Director Cherise Brandell said the idea came up in response to the council asking staff to investigate sharing services as a way to help balance the city's budget.

The Boys and Girls Club seemed like a good fit, since it already provided after-school services at a much lower price than the city charges, according to Ms. Brandell. The city charges parents $60 to $450 a week, based on income, while the club charges $25 a year. Citing the difference in cost as one factor, staff said enrollment in the city's programs is declining; 41 elementary school children are signed up this year, down from 50 last year.

The Belle Haven program wasn't funded by the city's now-dissolved redevelopment agency (RDA), but does tie up general funds that Menlo Park now needs to pay four police officers that were previously paid for by the RDA, Ms. Brandell said.

The club would charge the city $60,000 for services for up to 40 kids starting this fall at its Pierce Road location, staff said, and would also take over the Belle Haven summer camp program in 2013. The proposal goes before the council on Tuesday, May 22.

The club serves 265 children in grades 1 through 8, according to Executive Director Peter Fortenbaugh. While both programs serve elementary school kids, parents of students in the Belle Haven program say that's where the similarities end.

La Treece Butler-Morton's son has attended the Belle Haven program for more than two years. She echoed concerns voiced by several parents when she said that switching to the club isn't an option for her family. "The Boys and Girls Club, while I applaud their efforts — there is no guidance nor structure there," she said, referring to the commingling of different age groups at the club and perceived lack of guided homework and skill development activities.

"It's only $25 to attend, and that is exactly the level of service and care the children receive," Ms. Butler-Morton said.

While her son never attended the club, her 12-year-old nephew signed up for an after-school camp a few years ago. "I picked him up once at the Boys & Girls Club and saw myself the concerns my sister had. He was out of there that same week. It was the excessive vulgar language and the lack of structure that was problematic," she said.

Parents of children attending the Belle Haven program say they're willing to fundraise to help reduce the city's deficit.

"There has been no interaction from the city representative in speaking to the parents of the center, despite the proposal which the city has on file," Ms. Butler-Morton said. "I feel that we are being bombarded due to the side of the tracks we are on, also known as the side of color, also known as the east side."

The regular council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St. The after-school program will be discussed as part of the overall city budget presentation.

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