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El Rio Parents Lobby to Keep Youth Program From Closing

June 08, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Concerned parents in El Rio are scrambling to save a popular youth program that they say has been undermined by political squabbling.

The Police Activities League in El Rio--the only group offering after-school activities for youths in a new $3-million community gymnasium--will shut down on July 1 unless parents can raise the nearly $100,000 needed to keep it running.

PAL organizes youth sports leagues, dances and field trips in the rural community near Oxnard. It is funded by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, the Rio Elementary School District and a three-year state grant.

The state grant ended this year, and the Sheriff's Department and school district are facing budget shortfalls, said Rio Supt. Yolanda Benitez.

"I think PAL's a great program," she said. "But it all comes down to money."

Parents and some of those who sit on the 12-member PAL board, however, contend there is more to the story.

Political spats among individuals on the PAL board and a feud between county and school district officials have prevented progress, said PAL board member Soledad Trevino.

"The board's main purpose is to get money to keep PAL open, and that was the one thing the board did not do," she said. "I sat through five months of meetings, and all we did was squabble."

About 20 parents are planning a meeting on the PAL program Wednesday at the gymnasium.

Ron Mosqueda, a member of the PAL and Rio school boards, said the dissension among factions has hindered efforts to get funding for PAL, as well as plans to expand the program.

Last summer, Mosqueda was one of several community members who were frustrated that the gym sat mostly idle as county and school district officials quarreled about which agency was responsible for managing recreation programs.

Since then, he said PAL has filled that void, attracting as many as 150 young people to the community gym after school a day.

Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn said he would talk to the Sheriff's Department to see what can be done to continue the program's funding, which entails salary and benefits for a deputy--about $92,000 a year.

Trevino said county recreation programs could work temporarily, but that she and other parents believe the police presence that comes with PAL is crucial in El Rio. She said the parents want to do everything they can to keep PAL before settling for something else.

"In this community, law enforcement is considered a taboo--something to run from," Trevino said. "With PAL, cops are looked at as an acceptable part of the community."

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