Hillsborough County Commissioners appear headed to restore some form of after-school progamming at recreation centers after a preliminary budget vote last month that would cut the offering altogether.
Commissioners last month 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. Commissioners Ken Hagan, Les Miller and Victor Crist voted against the measure; voting for it were commissioners Mark Sharpe, Sandra Murman, Al Higginbotham and Kevin Beckner.
A final vote on the county budget is set for September.
An intense lobbying effort featuring emails, phone calls, has supporters of after-school care hoping they can swing at least one commissioner’s vote their way and save the program and keep up to 30 recreation centers open.
“It’s 50-50 at this point,” said community activist and long-time recreation center volunteer Terry O’Grady who, along with , is leading the charge to maintain the after-school program.
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. O'Grady says he can prove it only costs $2.3 million.
Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Sandra Murman said they are studying the possibility of keeping the after-school program alive.
Beckner wants to ensure families on a limited income, especially in the southern part of the county, have access to after-school care.
“Affordable after-school care needs to be available to every family, especially in areas like Wimuama,” said Beckner who is the process of reviewing the availability of after-school programs in the county.
Beckner said he and his staff are working to develop a map outlining needs and availability.
“We have not completed that analysis yet but I am concerned we may not have enough after-school programs available if the program is cut,” Beckner said.
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.
“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.
Commissioner Murman also is knee-deep in numbers, analyzing the economic feasibility of after-school care and recreation centers.
“We are all trying to get the exact cost of just how many staff we need to run the after-school program and how much it will cost,” she said. “We need to study Terry O’Grady’s proposal to see if his numbers will work."
O’Grady presented an alternative budget to commissioners at a dominated by Brandon-area parents who wanted to keep the after-school program alive.
For the program to survive, Murman said she believes there needs to be an enrollment threshold for each recreation center.
“It’s not feasible to have an after-school program when just a few children are signed up,” she said.
The commission will likely settle on a compromise that maintains the after-school program in some form, Murman said.
“I don’t know what it will be but I think we will end up with a hybrid program of some kind,” she said.