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After-school budget debate continues

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Calvin Rodwell Elementary School in the Howard Park section of Northwest Baltimore is just one of many schools that fears a $2.4 million budget cut again in the next fiscal year.

Child First Authority runs the after-school program at Calvin Rodwell, where 120 students  participate in extra classroom instruction, dance practice, and karate classes. With the current cut the elementary school will have to slice 50 kids from its enrollment and it will offer few extra-curricular activities.

“If these kids did not have this program many of them would be latchkey kids,” said Gwendlyn Unoko, Child First Authority coordinator at Calvin Rodwell, in an interview. “Many of them would go home and if they did not have some safe program that kept them engaged doing this, it could be the opportunity for them to get into some mischief.”

Not only would Calvin Rhodwell Elementary take fewer after-school children, but 7000 children across Baltimore city schools would be cut out of after-school programs.

“This funding is a necessity,” said Unoko. “It is just like breathing. So parents are going to have to answer that question, what am I going to do with my child if there is no after school programming?”

Organizers from BUILD—Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a collaboration of community organizing groups--say that this year six community schools that were planning to open new after-school programs in the fall of 2017 will be cut in addition to another six that already exist. One 19-year-old organizer, Samirah Franklin says Baltimore’s youth can’t afford that right now.

“The need has not diminished,” she said. “Young people in Baltimore city, you know we’ve had over 100 murders this year. Is this really the time to say no we’re not going to invest in young people, we see there is a need, but we are not going to invest in that?”

In a press briefing last Wednesday Mayor Catherine Pugh said she turned down BUILD’s plea for the $2.4 million for the programs.

“What I said to BUILD was we don’t have any more money for their particular initiatives that they want,” said Pugh. “We’ve put something like $5 million in schools and after-school programs and sorts, and that there is $12 million dollars in the youth fund.”

In action organized by BUILD last month 12 out of 14 city council members said they were willing to make cuts elsewhere in the budget to restore funding to after-school programming.

“The mayor made it very clear with us that she is not going to restore funding in this way,” said Tim Hughes, adult organizer with Baltimore Youth Organizing Project a program that works with BUILD and was created after the death of Freddie Gray. “She [Mayor Pugh] is not planning on growing community schools and she is planning on investing in the Family League.”

Family League of Baltimore, which funds after-school and youth programming, is expected to get $6.8 million from the city in the next fiscal year. That is approximately $600,000 more than in this fiscal year.

Family League officials declined to comment until the city council has finalized the budget for the 2018 fiscal year.

Organizers and Family League representatives will be at the budget hearings to plead their case for continued funding later this month.

“Even if people thought this was a one-time investment that kind of thing,” said Franklin. “We had Mayor Pugh commit to after-school funding, at current levels for her four year term.”