Passing the reins: Community center asks school board to continue after-school program

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Community Center After-School Program filled a big need in the Eureka Springs community, and the Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation is hoping the Eureka Springs School District can continue providing the program.

Chairwoman Diane Murphy and board member Kathy Remenar presented their proposal Monday to the Eureka Springs School Board.

Remenar said the program was modeled after the Twenty First Century After-School Initiative and is a way to provide learning opportunities to children who need them.

“No matter what program you have, it’s important to understand why you have it,” she said. “Our concern has always been that children are going home to an empty house because their parents work. Research says after-school education makes a difference.”

Remenar said research has shown that after-school programs improve academic performance, improve classroom engagement, improve school activity participation, increase successful homework completion, increase motivation and focus, decrease disciplinary incidents, improve decision-making skills, reduce likelihood of dropping out and decrease risky behaviors.

“The after-school program benefits children,” she said. “I have had untold numbers of parents say this is really important for them and their children. When the community center asked the community what they wanted, one of the first things they said was something for our children to do after school.”

At present, Remenar said 90 students are enrolled in the program, and daily attendance varies between 30 and 50 students depending on the time of year.

The program is led by director Carrie Gay, a licensed instructor, and has met all of the minimum licensing requirements for “out-of-school time” facilities because it is held at Eureka Springs Elementary School, Remenar said.

“Moving this program into the community center is not an option because we cannot meet these requirements,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to for several years. It’s just not possible.”

Remenar continued, “The elementary school already meets them, and Carrie went back and got all of the certifications necessary. Because of that, we were able to serve children on a daily basis.”

While the newly opened community center can provide after-school activities like basketball and other recreation, she said it cannot house the after-school program.

“We’re convinced the after-school program is essential for the community so we can help bolster education at its base right at the very beginning,” Remenar said.

Murphy said the program cost $21,556.05 last school year. She said the current fee schedule is $4 a day for the first child and $2 a day for the second and third child from the same family. Additional children in the same family are free, she said.

“Most of that was funded by the community center solely off of local donations,” Murphy said. “A small amount came from fees, but fees were low because we wanted to make sure we were serving everyone.”

She continued, “Over $13,000 was raised locally to fund this program. We run totally on donations as a community center. We don’t have any sort of tax-based funding. That’s a huge ask for our community to continue funding the program.”

Murphy said the community center foundation’s hope is that the school district can still make the program happen, whether through partnership or by taking over the program.

“We’re happy to continue running it, and we would love to have a grant from you to do that,” she said. “We’re also happy for you to take it over and use what we’ve done as a model.”

Murphy continued, “We’re not feeling proprietary about it. It doesn’t have to be a community center program, but our feeling is that is has to be a community offering. We would love your participation and support to make that happen.”

“The problem with us continuing this,” Remenar said, “is that we would have to raise fees to such a level that we would be excluding the very children we want to have in this program. It seems counterproductive to what we’re trying to do.”

Board member Al Larson said there may be a solution to the program’s funding needs.

“Come September, we’re going to ask the community center for a $20,000 lease payment,” he said. “That’s approximately what we’re talking about for this program, so I’m going to propose we do some forgiveness for this upcoming year of that amount.”

Board president Chris McClung said the board can discuss the proposal at a later meeting.

“We better check with legal before we take any action,” said treasurer Pam McGarrah.

The board voted to approve a meal price increase for the 2018-19 school year. Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said breakfast and adult lunch prices will stay the same. Elementary and middle school lunch prices will increase by 10 cents, he said, and high school lunch prices will increase by 30 cents.

“Some of this is required by law, and some of it is that we’re trying to offer some new options in our lunch plan to get more kids to eat in the cafeteria,” Pruitt said.

The board voted to approve revisions to the 2017-18 and 2018-18 Stipend Salary Schedules.

“We’ve currently been paying high school quiz bowl a $300 stipend, and the personnel policies committee (PPC) has recommended that we also do that for the middle school gifted and talented and quiz bowl kids,” Pruitt said, “so I recommend we add that $300 stipend for middle school quiz bowl.”

The board later voted to approve the Community Service Learning community partner applications for Eureka Christian Health Outreach (ECHO) Thrift Store and the Eureka Springs Rotary Club.

High school principal David Gilmore said the Community Service Learning program allows seniors to volunteer at approved off-campus sites in the community for course credit.

“The board has to approve off-campus sites, and we have to send that to the state board of education to be approved,” he said. “Once they do that, the supervisor at these off-campus sites can sign off on students’ hours, and the students have to come back and do reflections on what they did.”

Good Shepherd Humane Society (GSHS) is already approved as a community partner from years past, Gilmore said, and the high school wants to add the community center as a community partner in the future.

“Students can go out and spend time volunteering under supervisors,” he said. “They’re benefiting the community, using their time wisely and learning from the experience.”

The board also elected new officers at the meeting. Chris McClung was elected president. Al Larson was elected vice president, and Gayla Wolfinbarger was elected secretary. The board also welcomed new member Travis Holloway.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 9, in the administration building.

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