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Still Hope To Keep After-School Programs, More Recreation Centers

Hillsborough County commissioners will review Aug. 24 a proposal by Ken Hagan to keep more recreation centers open and to keep after-school programs at those centers, including the Brandon Recreation Center. A Brandon rally is set for Aug. 11.

Closing after-school programs at county recreation centers — including the Brandon Recreation Center — is not yet a done deal, according to County Commissioner Ken Hagan, whose proposal to keep more recreation centers open and to provide after-school programming at those centers will be discussed by the board at its Aug. 24 meeting.

A rally to save after-school programs is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Brandon Recreation Center at 502 East Sadie Street.

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 4 to 3 last month to eliminate the county's after-school program and close 31 of the county’s 42 recreation centers.

Cutting the program and closing all but 11 recreation centers would save $7.5 million, according to park officials.

Hagan and commissioners Les Miller and Victor Crist voted against ending the program. Commissioners Mark Sharpe, Sandra Murman, Al Higginbotham and Kevin Beckner voted to eliminate the program.

But while the after-school program may be on life support it's not dead yet.

At the same July 27 meeting where they voted to eliminate the after-school program and shut down the majority of recreation centers, commissioners also voted to discuss Hagan’s last-ditch proposal to save the after-school program and keep more recreation centers open.

Hagan proposed keeping open an addition 19 recreation centers and retaining the after-school program at those centers. He also wants the county to reduce fees for the after-school program in the hopes of enrolling more children in the program, making it more cost-effective.

“If you look at the last few years there’s been a decrease in the number of kids participating in the program, which correlates to the fees,” Hagan said in an interview this week. "If you factor in transportation, parents are paying even more. I would like to see if we can bring down the fees for the after-school program and increase enrollment."

The commission will discuss Hagan’s proposals at the Aug. 24 meeting and the commissioner said he believes he could get the one or two swing votes he needs to pass the measure.

“I think there’s a reasonably good chance of that happening,” Hagan said. 

District 4 commissioner Al Higginbotham is one of those votes.

“If we can find ways to fund these programs at the recreation centers we are going to, but it will mean taking money from another department,” Higginbotham in an interview.

He said he wants to see specifics on Hagan’s recreation proposal. His district covers Brandon and Eastern Hillsborough County.

“I’ve got to see more,” Higginbotham said. "I need to know where the money will come from. We are at the point where breathing life into one program is taking from another.”

Commissioners who voted to eliminate the after-school program said there are alternatives to the county’s after-school program including the YMCA, Boys & Girls clubs and the school district's HOST program (Hillsborough Out of School Time).

“No child has been put on the street, it’s just a transfer of authority to other programs like HOST,” Higginbotham said. "When someone says a child won’t have a program after school it is not true. It will just be handled by the schools.”

Parents at the July hearing and in subsequent interviews said their children won't get the same level of care at other after-school programs and that not all schools — including Mann and McLane middle schools in Brandon — offer HOST programs.

Officials at the Brandon Family YMCA said their facility does not meet licensing requirements for after-school programming and would need a covered pavilion, at an expense of about $65,000, to do so.

The vote to eliminate after-school programs came on the heels of a dominated by Brandon-area parents who pleaded to keep the after-school program.

At the hearing, Megan Cox said she was surprised by the vote to eliminate the program.

“They don’t seem to be taking into consideration that there are alternatives [to closing the progam] out there,” she said. "There are parents who depend on the after-school program who are now left to scramble for after-school care three weeks before school starts.”

JO ANN BROWNING August 12, 2011 at 12:55 AM
What will parents do that work until 5P.M. There kids will be on the streets do who knows what. They will be getting in to trouble. What about the ones that are on a fixed income. The ones that work for minum wage or just above it. How can these people afford it. HOW CAN PEOPLE WITH MORE THEN ONE CHILDERN IN THE CENTER CAN PAY FOR IT. THIS IS FROM JO ANN BROWNING RUSKIN CENTER
Michelle August 16, 2011 at 12:52 AM
I just know how I will vote in November.
Michelle August 16, 2011 at 01:01 AM
Higginbotham will not get my vote when he comes up for re-election. There is more to the after school program than babysitting. It is a crime prevention measure. The more eyes on county buildings the less vandalism. When buildings are empty they get broke into. Look at all the forclosed homes that have squaters in them. Not to mention this has be being talked about for months and there still is not a plan nor has the alternative plans been looked at. Too many misleading numbers. Too much miss information. I would be embarassed if I was on the BOCC. School starts before the meeting to look at alternatives. Let's get it together. It's ok to give more money to Ybor. One area in the county, but a county wide program is cut. Priorities people. Protect the past to the sake of the future. Or protect both.

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