Richard D. L. Fulton
(1/19) The Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners continued discussions at their January 18 meeting regarding the future of the town-supported After School Program.
The issue was introduced at the January 3 meeting for discussion by Commissioner Patrick A. Joy, who had expressed concerns that participation was dropping because of the amount of money families were charged to have their child or children in the program.
"Since the town has introduced a fee," Joy stated previously, "the program has seen a marked drop in the number of kids participating."
Town staff took over operating the program after Frederick County pulled out due to lack of funding.
To help pay for the service, around two years ago the town also decided to implement a fee, charging participants a per-child fee rate of about $35 a month per enrolled child.
The cost of operating the program to the town is around $16,854 a year, of which $3,540 is recouped through participation fees, according to Town manager David Haller.
As soon as the fee schedule was introduced, the enrollment plunged from 40 children to 20 children, and then began to trickle down to nine.
Haller stated at the January 18 meeting, "It (participation) dropped off a cliff when we went with a fee, then it was gradual (further decline)."
Emmitsburg After School Program Director Erma Tressler also confirmed that it was the establishment of a fee that caused the drop in attendance, and not so much any other possible causes.
She said, "It’s (the fee) not a big amount, but to some families it is too much too handle." Tressler stated that the program previously had several families with multiple children, and that the fee established was per-child, not per-family.
The program, she said, which was instituted in Emmitsburg initially by former town Mayor William Carr, is basically a recreation program to offer activities to children from grades 1 through 5, although they are also provided with homework help.
The children meet at the elementary school and then walk to the county Community Center at 300 South Seton. The program was reduced from its original two-20-child sessions to three days from 3 to 5 p.m., October through March.
Tressler also noted that the program takes students from the general area, not just from Emmitsburg, although the majority have tended to be local.
If the fee schedule was to be eliminated by the town, the cost to the town to run the program would be around $21,000 a year. Of that, 85 percent is staffing costs.
The town Board of Commissioners decided to continue the discussion at a future meeting, and would be considering whether or not to drop the participation fee, possibly only for Emmitsburg participants, as well as offering Emmitsburg participants priority at signing up over non-town residents.
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