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.”