County Extends After-School Program…. For Now

Residents sign a petition urging Hillsborough County Commissioners to vote in favor of keeping the local community recreation centers and the after-school programs there in open.

After a lengthy discussion in connection with the elimination of all but a dozen of the county recreation centers, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted in favor of considering a new plan last month, resulting in keeping the current after-school programs afloat, at least for now.
Unfortunately for many, the proposed so-called “Hagan Hybrid” plan, crafted by Commissioner Ken Hagan, is murky at best, raising even more questions, causing confusion among the members of the HBCC, while leaving little hope for the after-school program’s sustained future.
Due to a community outcry and subsequent “Keep Our After-School Program” rally, the commissioners revisited their 4-3 vote cast in July, which gave way to close the majority of the recreation centers, while turning the remaining ones into regional recreation facilities, leaving parents wondering what to do just weeks ahead of the new school year.
The “Hagan Hybrid” plan supports the regional model proposed by Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department Director Mark Thornton, but would keep 19 additional neighborhood centers open in all. Of those with an after-school program, run by part-time employees at reduced fees, would also be installed, all together totaling 30 centers.
The plan also calls for a review of each facility throughout the current school year determining their viability resulting in a future decision whether to keep open or close them for good.
Addressing the rates for the program, the plan calls for a reduction from the current $48 to $38 per week. Families that qualify for reduced-price lunches would pay $30 a week, while those qualifying for free lunches would pay $20 a week.
While it looks good on paper, to Terry O’Grady and his brother, Jack, who have been spearheading the effort to keep the programs in place and provided Hagan with a workable solution, the new plan is not what was proposed and will not ensure the program’s long-term future.
“I am not sure what to say to this,” Terry O’Grady said. “They wanted a solution, based on solid numbers and that is what we gave them. But, what we got in return was a plan full of holes and unanswered questions.”
O’Grady said that the plan he submitted to the county was a solid workable solution to this problem offering the program a real future.
“Frankly, I have no idea of what was actually approved and have no idea why they had to alter it,” he said. “It was proven to work, and now it’s all upside down again.”
Some of the questions needing answers, which O’Grady has sent in an email to teach commissioners, included: Which 29 centers are part of this plan? What will be the hours of those centers? Who will be the permanent staff at those centers? How many full-time and how many projected part time? What will be the programming for the entire day that the centers are open?
“We have worked too hard to try and remedy the needs of the children and community to not implement the program correctly, safely and efficiently,” O’Grady said. “Why fix something that is not broken? We have come up with a solution that everyone now sees is within the framework of the budget cuts and constraints. Let’s be sure that it is what we designed and that it can succeed.”
For answers to his questions, O’Grady is still awaiting a reply from Hagan, who at the time of writing of this article, had not responded.
Further discussion on the subject is scheduled for early September- little consolation for many unhappy parents.