By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/AhpDm6
smf: I missed this Valentines Day Massacre story when it first ran. But as you probably know, that figurative bloodbath has been postponed or rescheduled until March 6th.
2/14/2012 :: Free after-school programs that provide academic and cultural enrichment for thousands of LAUSD students - and day-care options for their parents - would be scaled back or eliminated under a money-saving plan set for a vote today by the school board.
The award-winning Beyond the Bell Division would be crippled by the loss of $7.5 million in youth services money, which funds tutoring and recreation programs, as well as outdoor education camps, the Academic Decathlon and high-profile music groups.
Cuts to popular Beyond the Bell programs are among the gut-wrenching options facing the school board as it tries to erase a $557 million deficit for 2012-13. Adult- and early-childhood education, elementary arts classes, magnet schools and gifted programs are also set to be scaled back or eliminated.
"We realize the district is facing dire circumstances, but we think youth services is part and parcel of what we should be providing for the community," said Alvaro Cortes, director of Beyond the Bell. "We want to keep kids in a safe, nurturing, learning environment."
Beyond the Bell oversees every after-school program - except interscholastic athletics - at some 600 elementary, middle and high schools. It also coordinates after-school programs operated on LAUSD campuses with funding from the state and local nonprofit groups.
Most of the programs operate between the end of the school day and 6 p.m. - hours that tempt youngsters with countless ways to get into trouble if they're unsupervised or have nowhere else to go.
Instead, students can stay after school to participate in academic and English-language lessons, intramural sports and other recreational activities, plus enrichment classes like life skills, art, cooking and music. There are also after-hours and weekend field trips to the theater and to the Clear Creek and Point Fermin Outdoor Ed Camps.
In a letter that will be sent to parents, dated Feb. 15 - the day after the LAUSD board is expected to approve his budget-balancing plan - Superintendent John Deasy acknowledges the value of Beyond the Bell.
"In LAUSD, students participating in after-school programs have shown increases in school attendance, English and math achievement on state exams, and the number of high school students passing the California High School Exit Exam," he writes. "Needless to say, I find these cuts very painful to have to make. However, to meet our fiduciary responsibilities, I am left with no choice."
For campuses like Topeka Drive Elementary in Northridge or Topanga Elementary, the Beyond the Bell program is their only after-school offering.
Others like Sunland Elementary and Roscoe Elementary receive additional funding from nonprofits like LA's BEST, or through Proposition 49, the voter-approved After School Safety Education Act.
"My yardstick is whether I would send my grandkids there," said Carla Sanger, president and CEO of the nonprofit LA's BEST, which partners with Beyond the Bell at 186 elementary schools. "And I would send them to those 186 schools.
For some families, she added, the programs provide essential child care services.
"There will be no day care for parents who are taking three buses to get to work to put food on the table during the worst economic downturn in decades," Sanger said.
Cortes notes that the loss of Beyond the Bell money could create a dilemma at schools that have other funding partners, with the principals having to decide which students get to stay and which must go.
In addition, there's the potential loss of state and federal grants that require a funding match using Beyond the Bell money.
Compounding Cortes' dismay over the likely elimination of after-school programs is the expected loss of money for Beyond the Bell music groups, the Academic Decathlon and the CyberPatriots, a computer-defense competition.
Defending national champion Granada Hills Charter and a dozen other Los Angeles Unified high schools will be heading to Sacramento next month to compete in the statewide Academic Decathlon.
The All District Honor Marching Band, which has performed in the Rose Parade for 40 years, along with the Thelonious Monk Jazz Band, the Beyond the Bell Youth Orchestra and the Band and Drill Team would also be eliminated.
"These are all wonderful programs. They allow students to be successful, to know what that feels like, to make that connection," Cortes said. "These are life-changing experiences, and they're going to end."