Two Sacramento districts will hire new after-school providers once city subsidy ends

In this photo taken Wednesday May 6, 2015, hundreds calling for more funding for child care programs rallied at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.
In this photo taken Wednesday May 6, 2015, hundreds calling for more funding for child care programs rallied at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. AP

The free Sacramento after-school program START that Mayor Darrell Steinberg launched 21 years ago will shrink dramatically this fall after two large school districts chose to look for different providers.

Sacramento City Unified and Twin Rivers Unified will rely on other organizations to provide free after-school services at schools that predominantly serve low-income families, according to district officials. Only the Robla School District will continue the city’s START program for 670 students at its five elementary schools under an existing multi-year grant, said Robla Superintendent Ruben Reyes.

This spring, the city asked Sacramento City Unified and Twin Rivers Unified to pay a higher rate for START that would account for the actual costs of the program.

“In the past when it had run over budget, the city … extended the budget, and chose not to do it this time,” Steinberg spokeswoman Kelly Rivas said.

Sacramento City Unified has 61 after-school programs, including 10 that were the focus of this year’s proposal for START, which stands for Students Today Achieving Results for Tomorrow. Providers for those 10 sites are still being chosen, according to the district.

Sara Noguchi, associate superintendent at Twin Rivers, said her district learned that the city needed $123,000 above the available grant funding to operate the program at three school sites. She said that put the city’s proposal out of the running.

Sacramento last week reported that state funding for after-school programs has not increased since 2006. The city also said higher labor costs were a factor.

During the last three years, the city chipped in to ensure the program could operate, the report said.

The change means up to 45 START staff could lose their jobs at sites the city will no longer run, said Sacramento Parks and Recreation Director Chris Conlin.

Conlin said his department wasn’t sure how many employees would be let go because there may be retirements or other attrition over the summer when staff face mandatory layoffs each year. Conlin said the START cuts would take place around August and be done by seniority, with long-term employees given the chance to move to other city jobs.

START is separate from the city’s 4th “R” program, which relies mostly on fees paid by families to provide care at schools in Sacramento. The city will continue to operate 4th “R.” Employees at those sites are required to have child care certifications not required for START employees, said Conlin.

Launched in January 1996, START sought to bolster literacy, reduce truancy and provide homework help and enrichment activities to 4,000 students. Only three weeks into the program, more than 2,000 students were signed up.

Within four years, it had grown from 20 schools to 40 and served about 6,500 students in seven school districts both before and after school. It continued to grow and became a template for a host of other after-school programs.

Steinberg was somewhat nostalgic when asked about losing the program and noted that START was at the forefront of the after-school movement in California.

“On the one hand, it’s sad to me because I helped launch START back in 1995,” he said. “It was my first big initiative as a politician and it is very meaningful to me.

“But I actually don’t think it’s going away. The name is changing but the components and the services are going to remain in place. All the sites, I’m told, are going to have robust after-school programs.”