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O’Connor Says Return of After-School Programs Would Decrease Crime

Times Staff Writer

Seeking to cut drug use and crime by youths, San Diego mayoral candidate Maureen F. O’Connor proposed Friday that the city pay to restore after-school recreation programs eliminated by Proposition 13.

“Many children have no place to go after school and so they take to the streets,” O’Connor said at a news conference outside Sherman Elementary School in Southeast San Diego. “We need to give our children positive outlets for their creativity and energy.”

Before Proposition 13, the major property-tax reduction initiative approved by California voters in 1978, there were nearly 100 supervised after-school recreational programs at elementary and junior high schools throughout the city. Budget cuts by the council, however, led to the elimination of the programs, though the council last year allocated $10,000 to reinstitute an after-school program at Sherman Elementary.

O’Connor proposed phasing in about 100 after-school programs over the next three years, with the first year costing about $500,000. By 1989, the annual budget for the program would be about $1.3 million. O’Connor suggested that the program be financed through the city’s unallocated budget reserve, about $1 million set aside annually by the council for unexpected expenses and other purposes.

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“That’s a small price to pay to protect our youths,” said O’Connor, who served as a swimming instructor in a city recreation program at Southcrest Park in the 1960s. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a top priority.”

Saying that drug dealers and other “criminal elements frequent the periphery” of school playgrounds, O’Connor argued that reestablishment of the after-school programs could dramatically reduce drug use and crime “by keeping kids occupied and giving them something to do.” The program would be particularly helpful, she added, for young children whose parents both work.

Under O’Connor’s plan, the school board would provide the playground sites, and city money would be used for personnel expenses. Two part-time employees would supervise each school site, and the playground programs would be offered for three hours after classes on weekdays and eight hours daily, Monday through Friday, during the summer and school holidays.

“This is a positive step as far as the city meeting the school board halfway in (addressing) a problem . . . that concerns all of us,” O’Connor said. The former councilwoman also suggested that city and school officials hold quarterly meetings to monitor the program and discuss other mutual concerns about youths.

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