Tuesday January 8, 2013

HINSDALE, N.H. -- The town's after-school program has recently become a topic of controversy, as some residents would like to see it operate on a fee-based system instead of tax dollars.

The subject was mentioned at a Dec. 12 meeting by Hinsdale School Board member Angela Schill, who said she questions whether locals can afford the program. The matter will be up for discussion at another meeting slated for the district offices behind the high school at 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday.

During budget discussions at the December meeting, Schill expressed concern over the amount of money designated for the Hinsdale After School Program (HASP). She said she knows the program has its merit but does not think taxpayers should be forced to finance it.

Hinsdale Superintendent Dr. David Crisafulli defended HASP at the meeting, saying it is probably the most important program in the school district.

"I think that there are recent studies shown what happens to kids between 3 and 6 p.m. It is very, very accurate as to what the assessment is. I think we deal with anywhere from 70 to 150 on a daily basis," he said. "I think it's had tremendous success. I think it provides not only a community need but it also provides an outlet for our students who basically do not need to be in a latchkey situation or getting into some of the difficulties that some of these studies have shown.

"Per your request, we basically have done a few things," he said to Schill. "First of all, we asked the director (Maryanne O'Malley) to design a program, which she's reviewed with a subcommittee, that will look at a $90,000 budget. And part of that budget is that $15,000 would be raised in revenue, which is about the annual amount we raise now based on fees."

HASP is currently in the budget as a line item for about $75,000, but budget talks are still in their infancy.

At the December meeting, Crisafulli also mentioned Schill previously asked if the program could be managed as a self-funding program. Crisafulli, School Board Chairwoman Holly Kennedy, Vice Chairwoman Jeana Major and board member Ed Patenaude Jr. said they don't think most families could afford to pay all the fees necessary to keep the program afloat.

He said the benefits of the program are well worth the costs. Schill said she has spoken with the parents of children who utilize the after-school program and she said many of them don't feel the program should be funded by taxpayers. She also said the studies Crisafulli cited were very subjective.

Hinsdale resident April Anderson is concerned about the future of HASP and submitted a letter to the editor ("Hinsdale after-school program in jeopardy?") that was published in the Reformer on Thursday, Jan. 3.

She wrote that the school suggests keeping the program in the school budget as a line item in order to show support for it and ensure its continuance. She said HASP will become extinct if it gets submitted to Town Meeting as a warrant article this spring, instead of being submitted as part of the school budget, and gets voted down. Anderson said the thought is that HASP would still cost the user a fee based free-or-reduced lunch status but that the school could budget the program to cover what a grant had previously taken care of.

"This program is vital to our community," she wrote in her letter to the editor.

Anderson told the Reformer she has a 10-year-old daughter and a son who just started preschool. She said she pays $5 for her daughter to take part in the morning program and $7 for the afternoon one. The parents of elementary school students are charged to enroll their children in the program but Anderson said the cost will spike to $70 per day for each child if it is run entirely on fees. She said she does not know of many people who could afford that, as 52 percent of students in town qualify for free-or-reduced lunch.

"I know, as a parent, it would be hard for me to work (without HASP)," she said, adding that she works from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day at Horizon Dental Associates in Brattleboro, Vt., and has no flexibility in that schedule.

She said HASP provides additional education to children and offers programs based on mathematics, science and art. Anderson said there is also a drama club, which will soon put on a musical, and piano lessons were offered a couple of years ago. She said this is invaluable because the arts are usually the first on the chopping block during budget cuts.

"The woman in charge (O'Malley) goes above and beyond," Anderson said.

She said HASP keeps students off the streets and away from developing bad habits once school is over. She said she understands taxpayers don't want to shoulder the burden of the program but believes it will ultimately save money for the town because more youngsters will not get in trouble with the law.

Anderson also said HASP runs programs before and after each day of a summer camp organized by the town.

Schill said it is the school board's policy to have the chairwoman speak to the media and had no comment. Kennedy, however, also had no comment and said she is waiting until a presentation on HASP is given on Wednesday.

O'Malley could not be reached for comment.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.