The contentious decision to end the Morse after-school program came to a head Tuesday night, with questions raised about the program's finances.
At issue is the Board of Trustee's decision to de-fund the village-run program, administered through the Recreation Department, that provides low-cost after-school activities and homework help for up to 40 children.
Parents fought the decision (), signing petitions urging its reinstatement and saying they were not made aware the program was in jeopardy. Trustees said the decision saved the Village money, and that impacted children could be shifted to the YMCA's program at Morse ().
Previously, Robin Pell, Recreation Supervisor for the Village, had stated the Morse after-school program nearly broke even, bringing in about $40,000 while costing roughly $54,000 to administer. She floated a suggestion to increase the $125/month fee to make the program sustainable.
However, Trustees fired back against those numbers, showing their own estimates that the program actually costs about $81,703 when administrative costs are factored into the equation.
Village officials also noted that only $32,000 was collected from the program last year, according to numbers provided by the Village Treasurer. However, Pell said she collected about $41,000 during the same period.
"Where is the $10,000?" Trustee David Schroedel said.
"My numbers don't match her numbers," Pell replied. "I don't know where they put the money... That is a Village problem."
Later during the meeting, it appeared that the shortfall was due, in part, to a lax payment system that allowed for parents to pull students out of the program for periods of time, and for some families to get breaks.
"There are certain people that can't pay, and when they are scraping together I feel sorry for them," Pell said.
Pell, however, also criticized the Board's numbers, saying they were artificially inflated by combining other costs, such as a portion of her own salary, and general administration of the rec department, it was a point Mayor Ken Wray disputed.
"It's foolish to think it doesn't cost us to administer the program," Wray said. "There is payroll, the purchases, the A/C, phones, cars, all kinds of things the Village has to account for."
To many in the audience, the beginning of the discussion seemed like an argument between the Board of Trustees and the Recreation Department. The board room was packed with parents and children who had come to speak on the issue, however, the Board doesn't typically allow public comments during work sessions. Despite not opening up the floor to public comments, some members of the audience voiced their opinions anyway.
"This is America, all of us are allowed to speak," said one audience member. "Robin is at a disadvantage. It's not fair."
While the board has heard from many parents and supporters of the program, Trustee Bruce Campbell claimed that part of the campaign to bring back the program was underhanded. He cited a petition signed by many residents as an example.
"We got a petition signed by a lot of people, it's a waste of time," he said. "It has people who live in Briarcliff, there are a number of names on here who have no interest in this, don't pay taxes and don't send kids to this program. It should not have been done."
Campbell, who has worked on the board of the YMCA, also said that maligning the Y's Morse Program was not appropriate for the discussion.
"There is no need to disparage a program by another organization which has served this community for decades," he said.
Despite tempers flaring, there is still hope for the program. Trustees said they might consider bringing it back if it was truly sustainable, meaning that payment loopholes would have to be closed, revenues increased and administration would have to be tightened up.
However, by then, Trustee Karin Wompa said the government-run program might cost just as much as the YMCA's program (over $350)
"You can't pay for it with these numbers," Wompa said. "Once we get there, the cost may be the same as the Y and we can't promise it won't be."