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After-school funds dry up

14 schools trying to retain programs without federal aid

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After-school programs at 14 Title I schools in Salt Lake City District had three years in the sun, but schools are now left scrambling to find ways to salvage parts of the programs on a sliver of funds they have left.

Lincoln Elementary is one of them.

"The programs were a parent's dream come true," said Shannon Andersen, Lincoln's principal.

The 14 schools, which had as high as 89 percent poverty rates, were able to offer enrichment classes like dance, guitar, painting and other classes that low-income families would otherwise not be able to provide for their children — not to mention very low-cost after-school child supervision.

They were funded by federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants targeted for after-school programs for at-risk children. About 6,800 rural and inner-city public schools in 1,420 communities nationwide have received the grants.

The concept was to create a full service community program in the schools with about $150,000 from the grants each year. The money went for summer and after-school programs that offered enrichment classes and beefed up existing after-school homework and reading programs. Some even offered night computer and English as a second language classes for adults.

But as of May 31 those grants expired and the sun set on numerous enrichment programs. Schools unable to cover the shortfall scrambled just to keep the academic classes after school.

Lincoln was able to scrape together $50,000 for next year's after-school programs, now reserved for students who are the most academically deficient. Instead of serving 200 children they can now only accept 50 into the summer and after-school program, which will offer no enrichment classes.

"There will be no adult (classes), no dance, guitar or art," said Andersen. "It's simply academic with a little playtime in between to make it palatable."

Andersen said that aside from losing so many components of the after-school program, she is concerned about the social fallout. Children will go home with no supervision, and that is the time some start getting in trouble.

"The overwhelming question (to the feds) is, 'What were you thinking?' " said Andersen.

Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen said the idea was that during the three years of the grants, schools would be able to form partnerships with recreation departments, community centers and other organizations to keep the programs going after the grants ran out.

"But the reality is everything costs," said Andersen. "Service isn't just free."

Nonetheless, as Lincoln says goodbye to many of its programs, John Erlacher, principal of Mountain View Elementary, said he is trying to keep as many as possible. So far the school has not cut any programs, and he hopes to be able to go another year with carry-over money and some redirected Title I funds.

"A lot of people involved feel it's gloom and doom, but I want to look toward the positive," said Erlacher.

Currently Mountain View has a sustainability committee looking at ways to keep the programs running long term and finding what other organizations can be involved.

"There are a lot of resources in the community, and the more we can use them the better off we will be," said Erlacher.

Though the original 14 schools won't be getting more grant money, five middle schools in Salt Lake School District will receive 21st Century funding that they will stretch over five years.

Meanwhile, the district is hoping to scrape together some money to go to the former 21st Century schools to keep programs like homework clubs, tutoring and ESL.

"The reality is we are not going to have money on that large of a scale; some programs may still exist, but they will be scaled back," said Olsen.

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com