By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The city of Santa Rosa is one of five organizations bidding on a $1 million contract to run the after-school programs of the city’s largest school district.
But some council members have questioned whether the city should be expanding its programs for low-income kids and competing against nonprofit organizations that offer similar services.
Vice Mayor John Sawyer said he supports the safe and nurturing environments and activities offered by after-school programs. But he said he was uncomfortable approving a major expansion of the city’s after-school obligations without first discussing whether the city should be in that business.
“The question is, ‘Is that our job? Is that the job of the City of Santa Rosa?’ ” Sawyer asked.
The city’s Recreation, Parks and Community Services Department has for the past decade run after-school programs at four to eight Santa Rosa City Schools campuses, said department Director Marc Richardson.
It currently operates programs attended by 450 students at Brook Hill, Helen Lehman, James Monroe and Steele Lane elementary schools.
The Boys and Girls Club of Central Sonoma County operates programs at six schools in the district, programs it took over after district officials terminated the contract of Carney Educational Services.
The Sonoma County Family YMCA runs a program at one school.
Most are funded with state money through the After School Education and Safety Program. Voters in 2002 approved Proposition 49 to improve after-school programs for disadvantaged youth.
Beginning next school year, in part to save money, Santa Rosa City Schools wants one provider for all of its after-school programs.
The deadline for applications was Friday, and five organizations submitted applications.
The three current providers all applied, as did Able Academics, an after-school tutoring program based in Valencia, and Bay Area Community Resources, a San Rafael-based group that runs after-school programs in 54 Bay Area communities.
If its application is accepted, the city would operate programs in 10 schools, adding four more elementary schools — Biella, Burbank, Doyle Park and Lincoln — plus Comstock and Cook middle schools. The Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts would not be covered.
The city currently employs 35 temporary workers for its after-school programs, most of them young adults. If it won the contract, the city would hire 35 more temporary employees plus 10 supervisors to run the additional programs.
Council members Susan Gorin and Marsha Vas Dupre strongly supported the bid.
But Sawyer, Jake Ours and Scott Bartley expressed reservations, either about competition with nonprofit groups or expanding a city service without a deeper discussion.
“This is major, and I think it speaks to a philosophy and a direction and a business model for the city of Santa Rosa that we have not discussed,” Sawyer said. “That’s what concerns me the most.”
With the additional programs comes the risk that, if funding is cut, the city will be seen as responsible.
If that happened, “the public is going to say the city is closing down the after-school programs. How do we avoid that?” Ours asked.
Richardson said that seemed unlikely because funds for the program were approved by initiative.
But Sawyer pointed out a similar situation that occurred with crossing guards. For years, the city helped fund crossing guard positions but got blamed when it had to cut that funding.
“It was very uncomfortable, and it made us look bad,” Sawyer said.
Ultimately, the council voted 5-0 to approve the application.
If the city is selected, Sawyer said, any contract would be “highly scrutinized.” The city would receive just over $1 million from the district and serve about 1,000 students. It would be required to spend about $165,000 to administer the program, mostly with existing gang prevention staff.
If the city’s bid is unsuccessful, it would lose the $240,000 it currently receives for serving four elementary schools.