Pro-care manages to survive chopping block
Last year, President George Bush proposed a $400 million budget cut. When the cut was enacted to eliminate many of the after school programs in the United States, few realized what it would do locally in Carbon County.
Last spring, it was apparent that the cuts would have an effect locally. Pro-care announced that the latchkey type of program for children would not exist unless funding could be obtained for the coming year.
That was a blow to a lot of working single parents as well as some duo paycheck households that relied on a program that took care of children between the time school was out in the afternoon and the time when they were able to get off work to pick up the youngsters.
The debate last spring about the utility of the program was fierce. U.S. Education Department officials said studies have shown that the federally funded programs had not improved students' academic grades, had not discouraged drug use and did not make children feel any safer.
Deputy Education Secretary William Hansen pointed out that the goal of the money provided initially was to improve academics. But it wasn't a good idea to spend "$1 billion on what amounts to day care ...," said Hansen.
At a Carbon County School District board meeting in May, parents flocked to the gathering pleading with the district's board to help keep the program going, but to no avail. The Carbon Board of Education felt the district did not have the funds to support the program. If more money could not be found, the program would not exist for the 2003-2004 school year.
In August, the school district approached the county commission about helping resolve the situation.
School district superintendent David Armstrong and interagency health representative April Durrant asked the commission to allocate some of the county's payment in lieu of taxes money for the program.
The money is paid to the county because of the federal government's vast ownership of land in the local area. Federal public lands are not placed on the tax rolls.
Money for many programs was requested at the meeting, but the main emphasis of the pair's presentation focused on providing the after school program funds.
"We are asking for $25,000, just for seed money to get a program up and running again," said Durrant at the commission meeting. "That would help pay for initial start-up costs while we were collecting the tuition from parents whose kids participate."
The district donates "in kind" to the after school program by providing the facilities and giving the students snacks, explained Armstrong.
The commissioners sympathized with the problems faced by the school district. But the lawmakers pointed to the county's present inability to do much to help.
"Everyone seems to have financial woes now," said Commissioner Bill Krompel. "Just two years ago we had a nice surplus in our budgets, but that isn't the way it is now. Our first responsibility is to support our county departments and with the budget so tight, PILT money will be important to us. We hope the budget looks brighter down the road but right now we can make no commitments to the school district."
In the end Commissioner Steve Burge told Armstrong and Durrant that the county would try to find alternative ways to fund the program if they could.
After the meeting Burge sent out letters to a number of people requesting they help the program and then at the next meeting he brought the matter back to the commission.
"So far we have only had one response," he said of his efforts during the meeting. "I think we should give the extra PILT money we received this year to the program."
But commissioners couldn't come to a consensus on the money to give, or to even give it at all. In the end they voted to see what other support would come in and then see if they could contribute.
Things looked bleak for the program, particularly when school started and not one of the schools that had the program last year opened the year with it going.
But that all changed last week, when officials at the Local Interagency Council (LIC) were able to put together some money to at least start it up for this year at one school.
"With some donations we have had and some left over funds from last years program we have been able to piece together enough to open one after school program," said Durrant. "We're hoping things work out and we will be able to open more soon."
That program will begin on Oct. 6 at Castle Heights Elementary School. According to officials this site was selected because of the high enrollment the program has had at the school in the past and the fact that parents there had consistently paid their "tuition" for their children to be in the program.
Durrant pointed out that Pro-Care will operate on the extended hours. The program will operate between 2:35 p.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and on Fridays it will run from 1:35 p.m. until 6 p.m.
Part of the problem is nearly $3,000 of unpaid tuition remains outstanding from last year and that is part of what put the program in the hole for start-up this school year.
The new setup will require parents to pay the tuition in advance. Enrollment forms are available at Castle Heights Elementary or interested parties may call Durrant at 613-3145.