The state will stop funding after-school programs in four Lewis County school districts, leaving two area agencies searching for ways to maintain those programs while keeping them affordable for parents.
“It’s a great loss to the community,” said Debbie Murphy, who coordinates Hand In Hand Early Childhood Center after school programs in the Beaver River, Lowville and South Lewis school districts.
The Advantage After School grant program, administered by the state Office of Children and Family Services, for at least the past five years has funded the Hand In Hand programs and one at the Harrisville Central School District operated by Transitional Living Services of Northern New York with no cost to parents.
However, both agencies recently found out they were not renewed for new, five-year cycles, with a program in the Watertown City School District the only one funded in Lewis, Jefferson or St. Lawrence counties.
“The north country just did not do well,” said Denise L. Harper, administrative director at Hand in Hand.
The Hand In Hand programs — which last year employed 21 people and served more than 200 students in the three districts — will remain state-funded through the end of September, allowing the agency to run them as-is for the first month of the upcoming school year. However, agency officials are seeking other potential funding sources and developing possible fee schedules for parents after the state funding, amounting to around $200,000 per year, runs out.
“You can’t give anybody concrete answers,” Mrs. Harper said.
On a brighter note, TLS within the past week has secured a $245,000 grant over the next three years from the Dyson Foundation, Millbrook, which had helped support the Harrisville after school program over the past few years, to form a new Student Connections after school program for students in grades 1 through 8 at the northern Lewis County school.
“It’s just wonderful news for Harrisville,” TLS Executive Director Stevie Smith said.
Dyson funding will not cover all costs for the program, so parents will be asked to pay some fee, Mrs. Smith said. However, income eligible residents may be able to get assistance to cover much of the costs, she said.
The new program will only employ six people to begin the year, down from 11 last year, but additional staff may be added if the numbers warrant, Mrs. Smith said.
The Dyson Foundation is requiring that a consultant be brought in to look at ways to sustain the program beyond the three-year grant period.
The program, which last year served 158 students in grades four through nine, has become very important to parents in the small community, many of whom could not otherwise afford after-school child care, program coordinator Callie Ellis has said.
Mrs. Harper said her agency has sent a letter to state officials to ascertain the probability of getting renewed funding in the future, as well as contacting local organizations like the Pratt Northam Foundation about immediate funding. Hand In Hand is also working with the local school districts in hopes of finding ways to maintain feasible and affordable after-school programs, she said.
The programs offer a safe place for students to stay during after-school hours, as well as offering homework help and socialization opportunities, Mrs. Harper said.
A similar program at Copenhagen Central School lost its state funding one year ago, so the district chose to offer an extremely scaled-back, in-house program instead, said District Superintendent Scott N. Connell. “We didn’t want to lose it,” he said.
While the old program separated participants into four classes based on age and included many different activities, the new one only had two classes and offered time for homework and games, Mr. Connell said.
About 30 students participated in the after-school program last year, down from a minimum of 70 during the grant-funded days, he said.