Summer parks program may lose city fundingPublished 11:51pm Wednesday, June 8, 2011
School is almost out for summer and that means a lot of Niles area kids will be bursting with the energy to burn up the summer days.
Starting Monday, many of them will do just that by taking part in the Niles Summer Parks Program. The program, according to Neil Coulston, the city’s director of public works, has been around for more than 40 years.
And its funding could be cut along with a full slate of budget reductions being considered by the city.
“Through the years, the location (of the program), it’s the neighborhood parks, at one time we had it at five neighborhood parks, then it was down to three and now we’re down to one,” Coulston said.
The nine-week program is held exclusively at Plym Park and accounts for between $15,000 and $17,000 of general fund money.
“It’s tax payers’ money that pays for the program,” Coulston said.
The funds go toward paying for a staff of five, four counselors and one program director, arts and crafts supplies, sporting equipment, some field trips and transportation, Coulston said.
Recently, as city officials acknowledged they were facing a little more than half a million in necessary cuts to balance the 2012 budget, the summer parks program made the list of possible cuts.
Coulston said approximately 100 kids take advantage of the program, though that number varies throughout the nine weeks.
“It serves a lot of kids,” he said. “A lot of kids that come to the parks program, if we didn’t have that to offer them, who knows where they might end up? The first couple of weeks they’re excited and they find a lot of things to do and they could eventually find some of the wrong things to do.”
This year’s program director, Dawn Rouse, a teacher’s aid said she’s focusing on keeping the kids at the park and cutting down on field trips requiring transportation in order to be more cost effective.
“What I really looked for was to make things cost effective for the city and for parents, with the economy the way it is and we have several programs that are going to be free to the kids, that I’m bringing things to the park instead of us going to field trips and being bussed places,” Rouse said.
Working with Teachers Credit Union, she was also able to have two specialty programs sponsored, including a “Zoo to You” program in which a professional will bring a few animals to the children at the park and talk to them about those animals.
The credit union is also sponsoring a special visit from “Mad Science” a group from Kalamazoo who Rouse said would come out and do science experiments with the kids.
In addition to arts and crafts and outdoor activities at the park, Rouse said children will once again walk to the YMCA every Friday to go swimming. They’ll also walk to Wonderland Theater to watch three scheduled movies during the course of the program and take a walk downtown to the Paris Soda Shop for a little sweet relief: ice cream.
Rouse said last year on average she had a total of 85 children each day taking part in the program.
Along with providing an outlet for students who are enjoying their summers off of school, the program also — through a grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — provides a nutritious snack and meal for kids taking part in the program.
The Salvation Army applies for the grant each year and takes care of training staff in food handling and first aid for the program.
That’s another incentive for children and families, Rouse said.
“A lot of kids are coming because there’s free lunch and the snack and a lot of kids are coming for that reason,” Rouse said. “Because through the school system they’re getting free and reduced lunch and some parents have a hard time feeding the kids through the summer.”
Even before the school year is officially over, Rouse said students are pumped up for the program and showing their excitement it to start.
“It’s good for them,” she said. “I believe it’s very positive and they’re excited about it.”
Coulston said this isn’t the first time the program has been scheduled to be cut in terms of funding. Last year, he excluded the program from his proposed budget to city administrator Terry Eull, just as he did this year.
What can be the case, Coulston said, is once a number of cuts are proposed, the city is left with some programs or items they’re actually able to bring back and that’s what’s kept the program on tap for this summer.
“I can think of more reasons to keep the program than not,” Coulston said. Still, he added, the program “is one of those things that, you know, are you going to lay off or cut into payroll and lose possibly a fireman or a policeman? Or do you keep the program?”
Proposals are already being turned in to Eull for consideration.
“I made cuts over and above the parks program,” Coulston said. He hopes in the end, Niles children will still have a place to go when school is out for summer.
“I know a lot of the children because I work with them at the school,” Rouse said. “And a lot of them, if they don’t have that program to come out to … they’d be sitting at home watching TV all day or at video games or who knows? They’d be getting into trouble.”
Nothing is official as of yet but city officials continue to consider just what will be cut from next year’s budget.
Tags: Niles City Council