The After School Program, which serves about 600 children in the South Orange-Maplewood School District, may see some changes in management for the coming school year.
The current management contract for the program, awarded in 2001, is held by the Township of Maplewood, which has managed the program for almost three decades.
The contract expires every August 31, but is renewed unless one of the four parties to the contract objects, said Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta during an informal report on the state of the After-School Program to the Maplewood Township Committee at its May 3 meeting. Those four parties are the Township of Maplewood, the Village of South Orange, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education and the South Mountain YMCA. According to Profeta, the Board of Education is objecting, so the contract will expire unless the parties agree to amend it to the satisfaction of all four.
[Patch has reached out to South Orange Village liaison Nancy Gould and Village Manager John Gross and will publish their responses when they are received.]
Profeta said that the South Mountain YMCA was preparing a proposal to manage the After-School Program.
Profeta was appointed as liaison to the Board of Governors of the After School Program in January. Profeta said he had been tasked with reviewing the ASP as the program had been accruing surplus that was not being fully distributed to the four partnering organizations.
The surplus currently is distributed 50% to Maplewood, 25% to South Orange, 25% to the South Mountain YMCA (which provides training), and 0% to the South Orange-Maplewood School District. Said Profeta, "The BOE does not approve that formula going forward." The Board of Education provides all facilities for the program (with the exception of the Maplewood Civic House where the program is administered) and custodial services.
While Profeta said that the ASP accounts show balances of over $900,000, the 2009-2010 audit has not been completed. Township Administrator Joseph Manning could confirm an audited surplus of $356,000 for the program through the year 2008-09 — for which the audit has just been completed. Manning said that the Township is finishing up the 2009-10 audit and that it should be completed very soon.
Regarding the surplus, Profeta said that the program's fee structure has caused the accrual but that the fees are not inappropriate in comparison to other similar programs in other towns. The program costs about $200/month per child — with adjustments made for early bird payments, etc.
"People are getting their moneys worth," said Profeta.
"The long and short of it," said Profeta, is that "the Board will not renew this contract." However, Profeta said that the Board of Governors wants to continue the ASP. "All four parties want there to be a continuing program," Profeta clarified later in an email. "It will simply have to be changed in certain ways."
The Township Committee discussed the fact that the ASP was a very "robust" program at the elementary school level, but not at the middle school level where YouthNet, the Maplewood Recreation Department and the Maplewood Library were major players in after-school activities and enrichment in Maplewood.
Profeta said the Board wanted to see the following in a future after-school program:
- a continued focus on enrichment
- fees that support an expanded scholarship program
- any surplus distributed by a new, more equal formula
- maintaining current personnel at elementary school level
- continuing YouthNet and expanding it in South Orange Middle School
- a person or entity to manage it all
Committeeperson Jerry Ryan said that the current ASP was a great program that all of his three children had utilized and enjoyed. Town Counsel Roger Desiderio asked, "Doesn't it make more sense to just tweak it — rather than throw it out and have to start all over again?"
In a phone conversation on Friday, May 7, Manning said that the program, which is state licensed, was "very successful" but needed more promotion. He said that it provided "excellent enrichment" as well as a "safe environment" for children from all of the district's elementary and middle schools. The program was available for 5 days a week for elementary school students, and offered a choice of either 3, 4 or 5 days per week for middle schoolers.
Manning did say that the payout of surplus had been "arbitrary and capricious" and could and should be corrected going forward.
Manning said that employees of the ASP are on the Township payroll and the Town brings them into the state pension system. However, the employees pay their own insurance and unemployment fees.
Andrea Wren-Hardin, ASP liaison from the Board of Education had these comments:
The board recently updated its Use of Facilities policy to read that when programs/activities are run in our facilities, they must be at least cost neutral to the school district. The school district pays for custodians, energy, etc. and we need to at least have those costs covered. The current ASP agreement does not meet the requirements of that policy.
The school district feels it is very important that there be no disruption in the implementation of the ASP. Parents need to know that the program will continue to operate in their children's schools without disruption. Parents can expect the location and hours to remain the same. That will not change. There will be an ASP operating in our school district.
In an email on Friday, Profeta wrote that "a real possibility for the immediate future is an amendment of the existing contract regarding the distribution of surplus at the end of the year, but keeping everything else the same until a revamped program is in place."
At the May 3 Township Committee meeting, Ryan noted that there was an urgency to resolve the issue as the program was without management for the next school year. The Township Committee resolved to have the Human Service Committee discuss the issue at its May 9 meeting.
- Marcia Worth contributed reporting to this story.