Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt, who served on the board for 24 years, said after-school programming at country recreation centers should be retained if there are no viable options for families.
The fate of the county’s after-school program — which serves more than 1,800 children countywide — will be decided by the Hillsborough County Commissioners this month.
Commissioners to eliminate the county’s after-school program and to stop staffing — and essentially close — 31 of 43 recreation centers countywide.
County commissioners will revisit the vote at a budget workshop Aug. 24.
Even if the county’s after-school program is cut there are enough alternatives to pick up the slack, according to Mark Thornton, director of the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, which runs the county’s after-school program.
Platt, a county commissioner for 24 years, isn’t so sure.
“They are saying the children in the after-school program can go to places like the Boys & Girl Club but the Boys and Girls Club here in South Tampa is closing," Platt said. "That doesn’t bode well for the alternatives they are offering."
There have also been problems in Eastern Hillsborough County, where officials at the Brandon Family YMCA, for example, another site touted as an alternative for after-school care, said they for an after-school program.
County Commissioner Kevin Beckner shares Platt’s doubts.
“County staff suggest programs like HOST (Hillsborough County Public Schools Out-of-School Time, school-based after-school program), the YMCA and Boys & Girls clubs can serve the children in the after-school program at recreation centers but I am just not so sure,” Beckner said.
Short of an ironclad assurance families will have access to alternative after-school care, Platt is advising commissioners to maintain the status quo, no easy task given the county’s budget woes.
“Unless they get a guarantee, in writing, that every family will have alternatives, I would stay with what we have,” Platt said.
The crux of the issue is a dispute over just how much the after-school program costs. County parks officials say the program costs $8 million a year. Terry O’Grady, an Eastern Hillsborough businessman, who has been leading the fight to save the county’s after-school program, says he can prove it only costs $2.3 million.
O’Grady presented his own budget to commissioners last month at a . A organized by O’Grady drew more than 300 people last week.
Despite recent health problems, Platt, 73, remains a passionate advocate for children and libraries. She's president of the Hillsborough County Head Start Community Foundation and serves on the county's Friends of the Library board as well as Keep Hillsborough Beautiful.
A fervent advocate for libraries, she was named to the American Library Association's "Freedom to Read Honor Roll" and received the "Best Friend of the Year" award from the Friends of the Library of Hillsborough County, Inc. in 1999.