Alonso: School system cannot inherit rec centers, fund struggling youth programs

Baltimore city CEO Andres Alonso told city council leaders Tuesday that the school system is not in the financial position to inherit recreation centers that are slated for closure in the city budget, after being peppered by council members about the system's ability to bail out endangered youth programs.

Following a presentation on the school system's $1.31 billion budget--presented last week and due to be approved by the school board on May 22-- Alonso was asked by City Council President Bernard"Jack" Young to clarify the system's stance on taking over rec centers, saying that he was dubious about the option given that the system doesn't even have enough money to maintain its own school facilities.

Alonso confirmed that it wasn't a viable option. He said that while he has asked schools if they have money in their budgets to help keep their neighboring recreation centers open by partnering with other operators, principals should be focused on funding programs and resources in their schools first when determining how to allocate their budgets.

"There's no such thing as a school using $200,000 for rec centers,"Alonso said. "And if that's the case, they're still going to be held accountable for kids, not community programs."

Some council members urged the schools chief to think on it more.

"I really do think the school system has a unique opportunity here," said Councilman Bill Cole. "Let's start with a 'yes,' and figure out how to do it, than starting with a 'no.'

Alonso said the decision was one influenced by experience--the system took over 4 rec center years ago, he said, and "four months later we were struggling with who owned the key, who was going to play traffic cop...who would pay for repairs.. and stuff like that."

"Some communities expected schools to play a role it wasn't prepared to play," he said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke also asked Alonso whether the city school system could also help the council keep its commitment to doubling funding for out-of-school time programs that are hosted by the Family League of Baltimore, and utilized by thousands of city students.

"Are you kicking in?" Clarke asked.

Alonso said that he could possibly kick in with federal funds the system hopes to capture from axing an embattled federal tutoring program called Supplemental Educational Services, which Alonso called Tuesday the "most wasted opportunity of my lifetime in terms of after-school programming."

The program has come under fire nationally and Maryland for taking up millions in federal money, but operating with loose regulations and little accountability. The state has applied for a waiver that would make it optional for districts to offer the program. Baltimore City will not.

Alonso said he would try to help where he could, respecting that the city council has made the Family League funding a priority.

But, he warned: "I think we're being challenged to do more with limited resources. It's hard to give the schools more, and come up with more again."


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