Key Commissioners Appear Ready To Back County’s After-School Program
County Commissioner Mark Sharpe likely to join Sandra Murman and Kevin Beckner, who also appear ready to support a plan to keep after-school care at Hillsborough recreation centers.
Commissioners are likely to vote tomorrow, Aug. 24, to maintain the county’s after-school program at 25-30 recreation centers.
The program’s future was in doubt after a 4-3 vote last month to eliminate after-school care and cut staff at the vast majority of the county’s recreation centers.
Voting to eliminate the program were commissioners Mark Sharpe, Sandra Murman, Al Higginbotham and Kevin Beckner. All four cited the county’s severe budget woes as the reason for their vote but said there are viable alternatives for after-school care. Commissioners Ken Hagan, Les Miller and Victor Crist voted against the measure.
Supporters of the county’s after-school program took heart from the narrow margin of that 4-3 vote, knowing they need sway only one commissioner their way to overturn the July 17 vote.
Commissioner Lesley Miller said he has no idea how the vote will go.
"If I could answer that I would know how to bring our troops home from Afghanistan," he said. "The last vote was 4-3 and there were strong arguments from those who didn't feel they could support the program. I just don't know how it will go."
For after-school care supporters, it appears it may go well, with Commissioner Mark Sharpe now leaning toward a compromise that would retain the after-school program with minimum attendance requirements and stricter oversight. The commission will also consider keeping 25 to 30 county recreation centers staffed.
Commissioners Sandra Murman and Kevin Beckner also appear ready to join Sharpe in voting for the compromise plan. In an interview with Brandon Patch last week, both said they would consider voting for the compromise plan.
That compromise – coined the “Hagan Hybrid” - will be introduced by Commissioner Ken Hagan at tomorrow’s budget workshop meeting in Tampa. Hagan based his measure on the proposal brought forth by Brandon-area businessman Terry O’Grady.
“The commission still has to vote but the commissioner is leaning toward the hybrid plan,” said Eric Larson, Sharpe’s legislative aide. “If I had to bet I would say he will vote for the plan.”
Sharpe will want to see oversight of the program as well as assurances the program is cost effective, Larson said. A six-month attendance review and cost analysis of the program may also be part of the compromise plan, Larson said.
“Mark has always been in favor of oversight and performance reviews,” Larson said.
O’Grady, a Valrico businessman, has been leading a grassroots effort to save the county’s after-school program. O’Grady, who has been reviewing his findings with commissioners, said there’s enough money in the budget to save the after-school program and maintain services at the vast majority of recreation centers.
O’Grady and his supporters have waged an intense lobbying effort including emails and calls to county commissioners and a petition with more than 2,000 signatures. He also led a recent rally in Brandon that drew more than 300 people.
The commission will decide the fate of the after-school program tomorrow, Aug. 24, at 1:30 p.m. in the second floor boardroom of the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa.
Coming Soon: An interviw with Terry O'Grady and a closer look at the numbers.