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School cutbacks force parents to scramble for summer replacements

Boys & Girls Clubs, libraries and other nonprofits anticipate a surge as budget problems force cancellation of usual programs.

June 20, 2009|Seema Mehta

Since the cancellation of virtually all public summer school in Los Angeles, Yolanda Murrieta has been scrambling to find alternatives to keep her three children busy and academically engaged.

Tutoring, which would cost hundreds of dollars a month, is not an option. Instead, Murrieta is cobbling together a schedule that includes regular library visits and trips to the Boys & Girls Club.

"I am searching right now for a place to get in so they're not at home watching TV all summer," the 46-year-old Boyle Heights resident said. "I will need to take the teacher's role so they will be prepared."

She's not alone. As parents across the state struggle to come up with summer plans, educators are warning that the summer school cancellations could have dire consequences.

While visiting a children's center on skid row, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Friday that the elimination of summer school throughout California -- prompted by state budget cuts -- will jeopardize children's safety and lead to more teenagers failing to finish high school.

"Students need to attend summer school to stay on track, to be able to graduate with their peers," he said. "No summer school will contribute to our dropout rate, and make it more difficult for us to continue closing the achievement gap."

He spoke at Para Los Ninos, which provides child care, schooling and other services to low-income, minority children. Hundreds of families have called the group seeking options since the Los Angeles Unified School District announced last month that it was canceling virtually all summer school because of budget cuts.

Gisselle Acevedo, president of the nonprofit organization, shared a deeply personal tale about the importance of keeping children supervised during the summer.

She said that when she was 11, she stayed home alone while her mother worked several jobs. Her mother warned her to stay inside and keep the doors and windows locked. One particularly hot, stuffy day, Acevedo stepped outside, intending to stand on the patio for a few moments. She said three older boys dragged her into the apartment next door and sexually assaulted her.

"Eliminating summer programs and summer school means more parents will be forced to choose between feeding their children or protecting their children," she said.

L.A. Unified, where the cuts could affect more than 225,000 students and will save $34 million, is one of many districts throughout the state that have eliminated or reduced summer offerings, including Fresno, San Francisco, San Juan and Capistrano, O'Connell said. The program cuts were prompted by multibillion-dollar state funding reductions.

Other schools and nonprofit organizations are trying to pick up the slack. After L.A. Unified announced its summer school cuts, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced that L.A. Unified students could attend academic classes at Catholic schools. Parents would have to pay tuition, but the archdiocese pledged to work with parents who could not afford it.

Nonprofit organizations are already seeing increased enrollment. At the Variety Boys & Girls Club in Boyle Heights, the normal daily attendance of 270 children is expected to grow by 100.

Parents also are seeking alternatives in the suburbs.

Lois Borgogno of the Parks Junior High Parent Teacher Student Assn. in Fullerton said parents were upset when they learned that summer school for elementary and middle schools had been canceled.

"At the last minute, they had to find things for the children to do," such as tutoring and YMCA programs, she said.

Borgogno's sister, Lynn Gantner, is among the affected parents. She had enrolled her 9-year-old daughter in a program at Laguna Road Elementary that offered academics and the arts. Now Gantner is thinking about day camp.

"She wanted to put her in something so she's not sitting around all summer with nothing to do," Borgogno said.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

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