Dozens of parents and children crowded the Sleepy Hollow Board of Trustees room on Tuesday to express their anger over the cut of the Morse after-school program.
The program – which provides after-school care, homework help and recreation to 40 students – was cut out of the Sleepy Hollow Recreation Department as part of the 2011-2012 budget approved by trustees last month.
However, the news came as a surprise to many parents, including Recreation Department Supervisor Robin Pell, who said she was never informed of the board's decision to make the cut prior to the budget being approved.
"I knew about it after the fact... You never came to our program," Pell said. "What good reason do you have to take away a program that is successful?"
Trustees said the move was part of a general consensus among board members that the Village should not be using taxpayer money on after-school programs. The savings the village received from axing the program is between $44,000 to $50,000, which would be mostly realized by letting go of four part-time staff.
"From my point of view, the mission of the Village of Sleepy Hollow is not education... The mission of the School District is to take care of your children, it's required by law," Trustee David Schroedel said.
The after school program at Morse was started in 1988 and has been providing low-cost after school care for working families. With 40 kids in the program, the village also has a waiting list of families looking to get in. They also pay a fee, which offsets much of the costs, according to Pell.
Families pay to be in the program at a rate of $125 per student, per month, though there is some reduction made for sibling discounts and scholarships.
Sleepy Hollow resident Pamela Sessions, who has a daughter in the program, presented 163 signatures of concerned parents, students and teachers who support the program. She also urged the board to reconsider.
"It's a safe place, a place they (kids) feel comfortable with," she said. "You aren't helping the families that are struggling to get by."
A few parents who spoke asked the board if they realized the financial impact the decision would make on families. They noted the only other Morse after-school option available is the YMCA's program, which costs about $350 per month, per student, although there are scholarships available for qualifying families. A call left at the YMCA was not returned as of this posting.
"It's not a choice for us, it's not economically feasible," said Sleepy Hollow resident Robin Burnett, a mother of three. "I don't know what I am going to do next year."
Many parents seemed to have little respect for the Y's after-school program, or said that they preferred the village-run program. It was a notion that trustees countered.
"I've heard a couple comments that other programs are sub-par. I'm sorry people have had that experience. Yes it is more expensive, but the Y program is excellent," Trustee Bruce Campbell said.
Proponents of the program said they would be willing to pay a slight increase in fees to support its continuance. Pell suggested a raise from $125 to $175, which, multiplied by 40 children, would bring in about $63,000 over a nine-month period.
"It's a place for our children to go, a place after school that is safe," Sessions said. "This costs less and I'm willing to pay more for it."