No one happy with after-school cut

OLYMPIA – Sabrina West doesn’t know where she’s going to send her children when the after-school program at Marshall Middle School closes for good next month.

“If you keep taking away these programs, the kids aren’t going to have anything to do,” she said, and she fears children will get in trouble instead.

West is a member of one of the more than 70 families that will have to make alternate after-school arrangements because the program is ending, the result of a city budget cut announced Tuesday. The city’s parks department has run the programs – at Marshall, Washington, Jefferson and Reeves middle schools – for more than 10 years.

City staff members are trying to find someone to save the program. Parks Director Linda Oestreich said possible organizations that could continue the program are the school district, the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs.

Olympia School District spokesman Peter Rex said the district is in “initial talks” about saving the program but doesn’t want to say more now. The program “has been extremely valuable for our middle school students at the district,” he said, but said he also understands the tough times.

It’s too early for people like West to get their hopes up.

West, a single mother and student at South Puget Sound Community College, sends Mary West, 13, and Christian Atwell, 11, to the program. She can’t always get to Marshall to pick them when school lets out shortly after 2:30 p.m.

“I use this program as much as possible,” she said.

For example, next semester she will be attending a class until 3:30 p.m.

“It just would really affect … my classes, and my schedule,” West said. She’s studying to be a paralegal and has another year before she graduates.

Some parents didn’t know until Tuesday that the program was shutting down.

City Manager Steve Hall said that cutting the program was necessary because the city isn’t making as much tax revenue as it expected. He now thinks the city will be $2.6 million short by the end of the year if it doesn’t make an equal amount of cuts.

Program staffers from the city’s parks department are lobbying to keep the program going.

“There is a way,” said Angie Benzschawel, who staffs the Marshall program. She suggested the city dip into its reserves.

“Our program does not cost that much to run,” she said.

She’s advising concerned parents to come to the next City Council meeting at 7 p.m. June 2 to let the council know.

Hall has said the program costs $141,000 for its nine-month run each year.

Benzschawel has spent five years at the program.

“I’ll come here after school and volunteer if I have to,” she said.

The foundation of the program is helping students with their homework, and children are mandated to do it for part of the time. But there are also field trips, such as kayaking, swimming and camping.

“I like all the field trips we do,” said Amara Lundy, 13, a seventh-grader. “They’re really cool.”

She said she has gone since sixth grade, and is sad that the program is shutting down.

“Plus, it would be a real hassle for my mom and such,” she said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869