About 50 parents and students pleaded with town officials to no avail at a meeting on Oct. 25 to rethink their decision to end the Homework Club, a free, town-run program offered in East Hampton and Springs. Instead, families will be offered an alternative to pay about $40 a week for their children to attend Project MOST, a not-for-profit after-school program with which the town has now partnered.
Laura Orellana of Springs told the board in its first meeting at the new East Hampton Town Hall complex that without the Homework Club, her two children would be left alone until she was done working. "This is really a mess," she said. "What are they going to do after school now? I work hard seven days a week. I can't afford [Project Most] for two children."
The board's impending decision had become public knowledge after Diane Patrizio, the new acting director of the Department of Human Services, sent a home a letter to parents a week earlier. She said the town would partner with Project MOST in what she called "an exciting response to the financial challenges facing the Town of East Hampton at this time."
Cutting the club's funding is one of the first major cuts to a slew of ways the Wilkinson administration has found to slash town spending in light of the nearly $30 million loan it took to cover the deficit left from Bill McGintee's administration. Nixing the Homework Club will be a $264,000 savings to the town, according to Len Bernard, the budget officer. It is part of the board's plan to decrease taxes by 17-percent in 2011.
Other than finances, parents complained to the board that Project MOST, where older students help younger students with homework and lead them in activities, was too lenient of a program.
"I'd like to say that's a bad idea," said Matthew Lester, a Springs School student who attends the club. "In Homework Club, homework always comes first and you get unlimited amount of time so I usually get my homework done."
Madeleine Lockwood, whose daughter attends the club at the Springs School, said the alternative was more of an enrichment program than an academic program. She said Project Most is not "a turn-key solution." Her daughter had once participated in Project MOST and she said that her grades suffered. "The teenagers that were supposed to be helping "tutor" with homework, usually just sat around eating snacks." Several parents and students echoed her sentiment throughout the hour-long discussion.
What many couldn't understand was why the town was cutting the club on Oct. 29, as opposed to the end of December, since the 2011 budget would not take affect until Jan. 1.
When pressed, Councilman Dominick Stanzione explained that as the town board laisson to the Department of Human Services he felt it was the best time to shut the program down since Edna Steck, the long-time director of the department who had spent about half of her time running the club, retired in mid-October. Two others from that department have also recently retired. "It was my considered opinion that it happen as quickly as possible. January 1 isn't going to be any different."
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, an attorney, added, "Frankly, I don't know quite how we've been doing this program," without daycare planning or State licensing. Still, she said she understood the position parents were finding themselves in without a free place for their kids to go, but she asked, "Whose obligation is it?" She went on, "Look, I've raised five kids… I've always worked two jobs. The school budgets are 60-percent of our taxes. Say something to them."