Budget woes put Burbank parents in a daze

When Andrea Bird was laid off from her retail job last year, the single mom could no longer afford after-school activities for her son and pulled him out of karate and soccer.

While hunting for a job and trying to fight foreclosure on her home, she has relied heavily on After School Daze, a city-run drop-in program at Providencia and William McKinley elementary schools that caters to low-income children.

But looming budget cuts have left the free program — which costs the city of Burbank $62,689 a year in staffing and serves more than 300 children — in jeopardy.

“It's just not an affordable model, no matter how you look at it,” said Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Judie Wilke.

A task force created last year after the program barely survived another round of budget cuts is evaluating whether to restructure the program or scrap it altogether.

Made up of city staff, school district officials and community members, the task force has discussed contracting out the supervisor jobs, teaming up with the Boys & Girls Club, or charging parents for the service.

But parents are rallying to maintain the status quo.

Bird joined more than 300 elementary school parents and students last week in signing a petition imploring the City Council to keep the program as is.

“[After School Daze] here is a huge financial relief,” Bird said one rainy afternoon while picking up her 9-year-old from Providencia.

Plus, she said, she knows her son is safe and socializing.

The program's seven other sites — which run parents $120 a month — will likely not be cut, Wilke said.

While some McKinley and Providencia parents have told Wilke they'd be willing to pay, many of them just can't.

In 2010, roughly half of the children at Providencia and McKinley qualified for the federal free- or reduced-cost lunch program, according Ed-Data, which compiles K-12 education data in California.

“I wouldn't know what to do,” said Veronica Cortez, who has a 9-year-old fourth-grader at McKinley and often works late.

Without the program, her daughter would have to walk home alone, let herself in and spend a few hours a day unsupervised, Cortez added.

Alternatives are either too in-demand or costly, parents said.

The Boys & Girls Club's After-School Education and Safety Program, which only costs $50 a year, has a waiting list and isn't offered at McKinley.

The school district's Around the Bell program costs between $50 to $120 a week, depending how many hours each child stays, said Joanne Brenner, the district's coordinator of child development programs.

Brenner added that the program, which has designated homework times, is more structured and has an adult-to-child ratio of one to 14.

“My salary certainly wouldn't cover that,” said parent Marilyn Whitney, while her fifth-grader at Providencia pulled the strings of her neon-colored lanyard.

“The kids don't have anywhere to go,” said Mary Waldorp, who picked up her granddaughter from McKinley just before her night shift at Walmart in Santa Clarita.

Cutting the program wouldn't be cost-efficient, said ASD supervisor Lynn Lehman, because lack of supervision may turn the kids to the streets. Plus, he and his team help the kids with their homework, since many of their parents don't speak English, he said.

“Some of the responsibility of the city is to take care of ones who can't take care of themselves,” Lehman said. “They're our future.”

The next task force meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13. A decision on the program will likely be made early next year before parents sign up for the following academic year's after-school programs in the spring.

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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