BY MARCY SHORTUSE - When word got out that the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center were thinking about dropping their after-school program and the Munchkins program, the reaction from the community was one of instant anger. Parents and island residents let that be known to Friends Executive Director Marta Howell on Tuesday, March 6.
She told the crowd at an impromptu meeting that Friends was no longer going to fund the programs.
Howell also said that this was an “informational” meeting only, and no decisions had been “cast in stone.” Yet Laquata Meade, who has taught with the Munchkins Program for more than a decade, stood up at the meeting and said that she, as well as Angela Colosimo, director of the after-school program, were given termination dates of May 25.
Approximately three-quarters of The Island School’s current enrollment is in the after-school program at this time.
When asked why the programs were being dropped, Howell said that it didn’t make sense for them to continue to lose money, as they had been for three years. She also said that Friends didn’t want to “compete” with the school or the local childcare center.
“Times do change, and it’s important to remember that our Island School needs to stay strong,” she said. “The Island School is about children. I see nothing wrong with an organization like ‘Friends’ trying to help. We want to keep them strong and successful, rather than competing with them, and with the Boca Grande Child Care Center.”
Many parents said, quite bluntly, that taking the programs away was going to do the exact opposite.
“I don’t feel that eliminating these programs will help the school,” one parent said. “I took a part-time job out here to make sure my girls would be in these programs. I shop here, I work here, I pay the toll to come here.’ Marin Parent, an island resident who has six children, said it bluntly. “If you take one of my children out of these programs, you take away all six,” she said.
Howell explained that they had hoped Lee County would be able to take over the after-school program, but they found that it wouldn’t work. Lee County can only provide after-school programs for second through sixth grades. That left them turning to The Island School for help.
Rosa Ramos, principal of The Island School, said that they had two ideas for a program which could be held at the school. One idea was to utilize the YMCA, the other was to hire a private person.
Howell then explained that enrollment in after-school care had been declining for three years, and the Munchkins program only had six children signed up for the next semester.
“If there are no children to populate the programs, you have to look at the economic side,” Howell said.
Bob Melvin, a local Realtor, said he was very familiar with upward and downard trends in island living.
“I believe we’re at the total low tide here,” he said. “We sold 29 homes in 2009, 58 in 2010, 102 in 2011 and year-to-date it looks like we could possibly double that. That’s proof-positive, assuring these programs stay in place, that things will look up if we just raise some money right now. If we don’t, and these programs go away, we won’t have a community.”
One parent asked Howell three times how much money the program was losing each year before she answered with, “$40,000.”
The audience response to that number was overwhelming: We can raise the money. Don’t take away our programs. These programs are not free.
Families pay more than $700 per year per child for after-school care. The Munchkins Program is almost $200 a month.
The Friends board is scheduled to meet in emergency session this week to reevaulate their decision. Go to bocabeacon.com for updates.
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