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Dark Clouds Loom for LAUSD's After-School Programs

The Los Angeles Unified School District's board of education will likely be making some tough decisions on next year's budget today, including whether to eliminate the district's Beyond the Bell Youth Services division that serves 42,000 students in after-school programs.

The LAUSD school board, trying to combat a $543 million deficit, will be making a number of difficult cuts in the coming months before approving the 2012-13 budget in June. There are already proposals on the table for cuts in adult education, magnet schools, gifted programs, and arts classes, in addition to significant reductions to programs provided through the district's Beyond the Bell division, which mainly provides programming for students in the out-of-school hours.

Potential Beyond the Bell cuts include eliminating the after-school programs at 564 elementary and middle schools, closing outdoor education and environmental science programs that serve 11,000 students annually, and wiping out the all-district honor band. The total in cuts would be around $7.5 million.

According to Alvaro Cortes, executive director of Beyond the Bell, the cuts to the after-school programs would be disastrous for students and their parents, leaving many without a place to go from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"I understand this is a horrific state of finances for all of our schools, but we have to decide what are the most essential programs and basic necessities for our students [when making budget cuts]," said Cortes. "I happen to think before-school and after-school care, providing a nurturing environment for our kids from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., is a basic necessity for our kids and something we owe their parents to provide."

You may remember last year I did a profile of the LA's BEST program, an after-school program that serves 28,000 students annually at LAUSD's elementary schools. LA's BEST is a partner with Beyond the Bell, and while LA's BEST's programs would not be directly affected by this potential cut, they would still be significantly affected, said Catherine Stringer, LA's BEST vice president of communications and public affairs.

For starters, given that LA's BEST and other partner programs at LAUSD schools use state and federal funding to operate, the district is required to supply 33 percent matching funds to maintain grant funding levels. Elimination of Beyond the Bell Youth Services would also put the grant funding to operate other after-school programs in jeopardy.

Additionally, given the public dollars used, most partner programs like LA's BEST have enrollment caps to keep student-staff ratios small. Hence, they would be unable to take in anywhere near the number of students left without an after-school program if Youth Services is eliminated.

"It's kind of like Solomon's Choice; we'll have to decide if there's any space, who gets a spot. At most campuses, we already have a waiting list. We are trying to expand LA's BEST to serve more children, but this cut adds additional urgency, especially at those campuses where Youth Services is the only after-school program," said Stringer, who added that a cut of this magnitude in some ways would undermine the importance of after-school programming to providing a well-rounded education for all kids, particularly for needy students.

Cortes said at 80 of the schools, the Youth Services after-school programs, which provide academic enrichment and recreation, are the only after-school programs available. Beyond the Bell has been providing some level of youth services since 1915, he said.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent John Deasy also expressed dismay that the cut was on the agenda, recognizing that after-school programs provide care in peak hours for crime and drug use, and that the after-school programs in LAUSD have been shown to improve attendance and academic performance.

"Needless to say, I find these cuts very painful to make. However, to meet our fiduciary responsibilities, I am left with no choice," he wrote. "As I have stated publicly many times, I find the current and projected funding from the state to be immoral. Please know that, along with the LAUSD board of education, I am advocating for every dollar from the state as well as working with our local community members and bargaining units to find ways to mitigate the effects of these cuts."

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