County Administrator Mike Merrill says cutting the plan would save $7.5 million per year, but when the Board of County Commissioners began their discussion of the issue on Wednesday morning, he emphasized that there was a "misperception" that he didn't care about the kids, but maintained that there were some "serious cost challenges to the program." And he wanted to emphasize that the county wasn't closing down any parks, but instead those parks would no longer be fully staffed, but that all community centers would be available to any group on a scheduled basis.
The Merrill plan would shift the 1,800 or so kids in county run programs to ones run by Hillsborough County schools or other non-profit organizations.
But several commissioners had real concerns about the new plan, in particular about transporting the kids, who in many cases now will no longer be within walking distance of such facilities.
Representing the school district was Gwen Luney, who emphasized that the school's system, which hosts over 8,000 students (vs. the county's 1,800) wasn't all work and no play, and would allow the kids to get physical after they finished their homework.
The difference between county's program vs. the school's is about $1 million, though the county services several thousand more. That's because they don't rely as much on paid staff as the county does.
Supporting the concept overall was Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who said the whole fight was over how to make limited resources to serve as many kids a possible. "It's a question of whether our current model still makes sense," he said, a sentiment echoed by Commissioner Mark Sharpe.
But there was much criticism of the plan by Commissioner Les Miller, who said he had "a major concern we are going to move down a path that will let our citizens down," and instead voted to support Commissioner Hagan's "hybrid" plan that would progress beyond the 11 regional centers that Merill was also calling for, expanding it to 15-20 parks.
Commissioner Sandy Murman said the county's program serving children was broken and need to be fixed. "These children deserve the best education possible," she said, calling for a workshop to support children.
But as Murman and Hagan were calling for amendments to motions, Commissioner Miller seemed to get frazzled, saying "all these motions after motions after motions are getting us in trouble."
Commissioner Hagan's motion - passed unanimously - would look at cutting fees associated with such after-school programs, to see if they can be altered to encourage more children to enroll.