Education

After-school programs could be cut at four Sacramento schools

Amber Pena picks up her son Marco, 6, at the afternoon START program run by the city at Tahoe Elementary School in Tahoe Park.
Amber Pena picks up her son Marco, 6, at the afternoon START program run by the city at Tahoe Elementary School in Tahoe Park. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The city of Sacramento is considering closing 4th “R” after-school programs at four Sacramento City Unified School District campuses and severing its ties to another after-school program at 18 schools.

A City Council discussion on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday night was postponed until April 28. Eric Guerra, who last week won a City Council seat representing one of the affected 4th “R” campuses, is scheduled to be sworn in that evening. City Manager John Shirey and council members said they wanted to allow Guerra to take part in the debate and explore ways to save the programs.

Under what the city said is a cost-saving plan, 4th “R” would be eliminated at Golden Empire Elementary in Rosemont, Caroline Wenzel Elementary School in Greenhaven, Hubert H. Bancroft Elementary in College Greens and O.W. Erlewine Elementary in Larchmont Riviera. Golden Empire, Bancroft and Erlewine are within 1 mile of one another.

According to a city of Sacramento staff report, the 4th “R” program is facing a budget deficit of $458,000 for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That gap is partly the result of increasing employee costs; many employees at 4th “R” sites recently joined a labor union, and the city now must pay those workers increased benefits, according to Alan Tomiyama, the city’s recreation manager.

At the same time, enrollment in the 4th “R” programs has steadily declined at the four campuses slated to be closed as more parents enroll their children in free after-school programs at those campuses. There are 187 children combined in 4th “R” at the four schools, Tomiyama said.

About 90 percent of the funding for 4th “R” comes from fees paid by parents and guardians of children in the program; the other 10 percent is from state grants that help subsidize the program for low-income families. With the majority of 4th “R” funding generated by parent fees, dwindling enrollment has damaged the program’s budget.

Golden Empire, Bancroft and Erlewine all have free START after-school programs operated by the city. Wenzel has a free program offered by an outside vendor.

“These four sites are the lowest enrolled sites because, quite frankly, the vast majority of clients (at the schools) are going to the (free after-school programs),” Tomiyama said.

Felise Dooley is one of the parents who has moved a child from 4th “R” to a free after-school program.

Dooley pulled her car to the front of Wenzel Elementary on Tuesday morning and said she hoped to learn about after-school options for a child who attends a charter campus nearby. Her third-grade son used to attend Wenzel and its 4th “R” program, she said. But the cost was between $400 and $500 a month. Now she hopes to enroll him in the free California After School Education & Safety Program (ASES) operated at the campus – one of the multiple vendors that provide a free after-school program.

“It keeps him busy, keeps his brain stimulated for summer and even after school,” she said.

The free START program is also about to run a deficit. Employee salaries and benefits are rising, and the program will carry a $1 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year “without significant cost saving measures,” according to the city report. As a result, the city plans to cut its ties with START at 18 schools. However, free after-school programs are expected to continue at those campuses.

Most of START’s funding comes from state and federal grants. The program receives 10 percent of its budget each year from the city of Sacramento’s general fund.

START began in 1996, fostered by then-City Councilman Darrell Steinberg. Within three years it grew to 42 schools serving 7,000 students, offering homework help, recreation and literacy education.

The program is available only to schools that qualify for at least 50 percent free and reduced-price meals.

Steinberg, who served as state Senate president pro tem until last fall, said Tuesday that the after-school brand remained in Sacramento but became an inspiration for other after-school programs across the state.

“When I started it, it got a lot of attention in the capital city, and the Legislature picked it up, and (U.S.) Sen. (Barbara) Boxer picked it up,” Steinberg said. “It was a significant catalyst to the statewide programs.”

Steinberg said he knew about the START deficit and hopes a replacement is found.

“I love the brand,” he said. “It has done a lot of good over the years. But that’s less important to me than making sure the same number or more children get comprehensive after-school experience.”

The Sacramento City Unified School District does have plans to look for other vendors to continue the after-school program at the 18 schools. District Superintendent José Banda told parents in a letter last week that funding is available for START through state and federal grants, and the after-school programs will not be eliminated.

“I’m talking with (Banda) about the need to keep these sites open based on the letters I’ve received and the need I know these communities have,” said Councilman Rick Jennings.

The fate of 4th “R” is less clear.

Banda wrote parents last week that the district is working with the city to find a solution to the proposed elimination of 4th “R” at the four schools. Jennings, who represents Greenhaven, said the city is exploring whether the district or an outside vendor can assume responsibility for the programs.

Shirey said the city is negotiating with the school district and, “We hope those will be productive discussions, and we may be able to return (to the City Council in two weeks) with a different set of recommendations.”

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.

4th “R” programs would be eliminated at the following schools: Golden Empire Elementary, Wenzel Elementary, Bancroft Elementary and Erlewine Elementary.

The city would no longer operate START after-school programs at the following schools: Abraham Lincoln, Bret Hart, David Lubin, Elder Creek, Ethel Phillips, Golden Empire, Hollywood Park, Hubert H. Bancroft, James Marshall, John Cabrillo, Mark Twain, O.W. Erlewine, Parkway, Peter Burnett, Pony Express, Susan B. Anthony, Tahoe and Theodore Judah.

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