Hillsborough expands recreational after school programs
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08/25/11 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough County Commissioners voted to make a plan that would add 19 parks to provide youth recreational programs. The plan represents an increase from the previously adopted use of 11 regional facilities. The decision came after Commissioner Ken Hagan proposed a hybrid plan for board consideration.

Commissioner Ken Hagen brought a proposal to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners that would meet the needs of children and families throughout the county while still making financial sense during a time of tough budget cuts. His proposed hybrid plan to recreational programs would accommodate the need to drastically reduce the pricey $7.5 million program.

Hagan said an increase in enrollment paired with tweaking the program’s sliding scale rates would be enough for the program’s costs to sustain themselves. In 2008, the program had an enrollment rate of about 5600, but has drastically shrunk to about 1900 kids. He says his plan will put that number on the rise again by making programs more accessible to families.

Hagan’s plan didn’t pass as is, but all seven commissioners agreed providing more facilities for greater accessibility is in the county’s best interest. Commissioner Victor Crist fully supported the plan because keeping young people busy is something he said is paramount in keeping them on the straight and narrow. He said accomplishing that would benefit the county in the future by eliminating the number of incarcerations.

Crist even went so far as to suggest a method be put in place to monitor the results of juvenile behavior through the school and juvenile justice systems. His big brother-like proposal was quickly shot down by Commissioner Sandra Murman who said his plan was excessive and over the top. Instead, Murman wanted to verify eligibility for families paying the agreed upon reduced weekly rate of $20 based on a child’s status for free or reduced school lunches. Families that do not qualify under those standards would have to pay the full approved fee of $38, down from the current $48 rate. Murman said the number of people in need of recreation services is not being adequately addressed under the current program.

But the biggest proposed change to Hagan’s plan came from Commissioner Kevin Beckner who wanted $2 million set aside for scholarships to qualifying families. He said kids who were awarded scholarships would then benefit from expanded choices. He also said the program is no longer needed the way it once was.

The board will meet again on September 8 to decide on standards to ensure the program’s success. Among those standards will be a minimum enrollment of 25 children per facility. Former participants in the program were recently notified by mail that programs would be cancelled. Commissioner Lesley Miller said it is important to get the word out to them that those services would be continuing after all.

The program will be evaluated after 6-months for effectiveness. If the program is not succeeding after one year, commissioners say they will pull the plug.

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