By Morgan Holt
A notice went out Thursday to Rockbridge County families that starting in January they must pay $25 a month for their children to attend an after-school program at Lexington’s Lylburn Downing Middle School.
The after-school program, which was free for city and county children, was founded in 1989 to lower the dropout rate and serve as a drug-free, intimidation-free haven while parents were at work.
Since its creation, the city of Lexington covered its costs. But an increase in county participation this year forced the city to charge parents from the county, said Youth Services Director Tammy Dunn.
In the past, she said, only one or two county students registered for the program. But this year, 12 county students registered, including 11 from Central Elementary and one from Maury River Middle School. This caused the program to grow from about 15 to 20 children a day to about 30 children.
In Buena Vista, the two elementary schools had offered day-care before and after school for a fee that officials hoped would cover the full cost of the programs. But last month the school board shut down the program at Kling Elementary because the fees were not covering expenses. Those children were offered busing to Enderly Elementary’s program.
The YMCA, in the College Square shopping center, also charges weekly fees for after-school care on weekdays and all-day childcare Friday through Sunday.
Dunn said she thinks the number of county children in the program at Lylburn Downing increased because many of their parents paid for their children to attend an eight-week summer program and decided to continue through the school year.
“I think the parents liked the environment,” she said.
Dunn said the increase in children meant that she and her assistant, Kendal Payner, had to buy more arts and crafts, snacks, and supplies for the kids.
“It’s really knocked my budget out of whack,” she said. “We had to ask the city to appropriate more funds.”
Dunn proposed the $25-a-month fee for county students, and City Manager Jon Ellestad took it to city council. The proposal was approved unanimously Nov. 3.
The current budget for the program for 2011-12 is $74,000. Dunn said she is expecting an increase of about $2,000 from tuition, and that she will most likely use it to buy recreation supplies.
Connie Powell, a Lexington resident whose three children in the program participate for free, said some county parents may not be able to afford to pay $25 a month per child.
“I’m just thankful it’s not me,” she said.
Dunn said she does not think that will be a problem because Lylburn Downing is a bargain compared to other programs in the area.
“It’s an affordable option,” she said.