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After-School Programs Get Financial Boost in Some Cities : Budget: School districts with reduced funding are turning to their cities for help, but the response is uneven.

July 21, 1991|MICHELE FUETSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the ABC Unified School District announced that deep budget cuts at the state and local levels meant the end of after-school programs at its six middle schools, the city of Cerritos stepped into the funding breach.

In response to a request from the school district, the City Council said it would take over the part of the program that operates at the four middle schools in Cerritos.

Long Beach reacted the same way when its school district said it had no money to run its 50-year-old summer recreation program. And, in Bell Gardens, which is served by the financially beleaguered Montebello Unified School District, the city is assuming $50,000 worth of costs for recreation and counseling services that the district can no longer afford.

Across the Southeast area, school districts struggling to maintain their programs in the face of drastic cuts in state funding are turning to their cities for help.

Whether a city reacts favorably seems to depend on two things: its own budget situation and, in some cases, whether city officials see the situation as critical.

Long Beach Councilman Les Robbins said that when he and his colleagues learned that the school district could not pay for the summer program, they knew they had better come up with the money for it or face bigger problems than they already have.

Over the last 18 months, Long Beach has suffered some of the most murderous gang rivalries in the Southland as Asian, Latino and black youths battle for turf in the city's increasingly crowded neighborhoods.

"If you don't do something to provide viable, good, solid activities for the kids, you're just asking for trouble," Robbins said. "Kids with nothing to do are a breeding ground for gangs."

Last year, Long Beach helped its school district by paying half the cost of the summer program. This year the city will pay the total $122,700 cost at the 23 school sites where the youngsters are gathered.

The city recently had to raise its utility tax from 7% to 10% in order to help close a budget deficit of its own. However, Robbins said council members agreed that, despite the city's money problems, they had to give youngsters a summer recreation program.

Cerritos has a mild gang problem compared to Long Beach and neighboring Artesia, Norwalk and Hawaiian Gardens. However, Cerritos officials privately acknowledge that their desire to provide youngsters with an alternative to gang influence was the impetus behind the decision to take over the after-school recreation programs at the middle schools.

As cities pitch in to help their schools, however, inequities can be created. Cerritos, for example, blessed with a $4.5-million budget surplus, had no problem finding the $34,000 to pay for the after-school program.

However, students in the ABC district who live in Artesia and Hawaiian Gardens probably will not have after-school programs because their cities are unable to pay for them.

Hawaiian Gardens has faced budget deficits for the past three years, and city officials have told the school district they do not have enough money to pay for the after-school program at the one middle school in town. The city struggled last year to pay for an after-school program it runs at its three ABC elementary schools, City Manager Nelson Oliva said.

"If we were able, we would," Oliva said. "But this year (the financial outlook) is probably worse than it's ever been for governments."

In Artesia, the story is the same: The city cannot afford to take over where schools are faltering financially. "The city has much less money than (the district)," City Manager Paul J. Phillips said.

In other cities, too, officials have had to turn down requests for help from school districts. Norwalk City Manager Richard Powers is recommending that his council say no to a request from Little Lake City School District Supt. John V. Pulice that Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs help pay for a counseling program that works with potential school dropouts.

"We have a $3- to $4-million shortfall of our own," Powers said. "We need to get our own house in order before we can talk about funding other jurisdictions . . . We stand to lose programs all over the place."

Santa Fe Springs has already said no to Pulice.

The superintendent said he was not surprised by the city responses, given the budget problems they also face as a result of the recession and the state budget deficit. Pulice was quick to point out, however, that both cities have helped the schools when they could.

Over the past 10 years, the city of Santa Fe Springs has used more than $4.5 million of its redevelopment money to upgrade school buildings. And Norwalk operates a gang intervention program that places community workers on school campuses.

The Montebello Unified School District is asking all seven cities it serves for help, acting Supt. Darline P. Robles said. In May, the district was cited by state Controller Gray Davis as one of the two most financially troubled districts in California.

The city of Montebello said it is studying a request from the district to take over the after-school program, which the district has had to drop, along with its summer recreation program.

Bell Gardens has agreed to pick up $50,000 worth of costs for the district. The city will pay the district's $35,000 share in a joint early juvenile crime intervention program and will also take over after-school recreation programs at the schools in Bell Gardens at a cost of about $15,000.

"A lot of the cities are in trouble financially and we're lucky we have some money," Bell Gardens City Manager Claude Booker said. "If the schools can't afford (the after-school program) and we have a lot of working parents, somebody has to pick up the slack."

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