PORTSMOUTH — With the start of school only days away, Sheri Vincent is scrambling to find afternoon child care for her 9-year-old son.
Just last week, Ms. Vincent learned that Portsmouth Action for Youth’s after-school program is likely shutting down this year.
Adding insult to injury, she was also notified last week that a different program she’s used previously for before- and after-school care — “I need both because I work up at (Rhode Island College) in North Providence,” she explained — is also being discontinued.
The double whammy has left her reeling.
“Unfortunately, I’m really down to the wire because school starts Tuesday and I have no provider,” Ms. Vincent said Friday morning after dropping off her son at PAY’s summer program at St. John’s Masonic Lodge on Sprague Street. Friday was the last day of the summer program.
“I have to do something because I have a full-time job. It is very hard. It’s going to cost me more — almost $160 a month more, which is a huge hit,” she said, noting that PAY’s after-school fee of $15 per child is an affordable option.
Last week, PAY director Cybil Pacheco confirmed that it doesn’t appear the after-school program will be available this year. Why that is, however, is something PAY officials say they’re still trying to figure out.
Early in the year, the school district informed PAY that it wouldn’t be able to run its eight-week summer program at Hathaway School — where the agency has also offered an after-school program for years — because of needed fire code upgrades. (The summer program was saved when The Masonic Lodge offered PAY the use of its building.)At the March 11 School Committee meeting, Ms. Pacheco was also told that going foreword, PAY would have to pay the district’s nonprofit rate to rent school facilities to help defray expenses for electricity, cleaning and other items. PAY has not previously paid a fee to use Hathaway.
“I do think it’s the money. I don’t think they want to have the custodians in the afternoon,” Ms. Pacheco said.
Responded School Committee member David Croston, who was chairman in March, “We are challenged as a community in that we want to do a lot of things but the budget keeps hitting us smack in the face.”
Also at the March 11 meeting, PAY was asked to provide its most recent financial information, as well as a list of the agency’s board of directors, to Chris DiIuro, the district’s director of finance and administration.
That’s where things get confusing.
Ms. Pacheco said she believed the district wanted financial information for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ended June 30, so she waited until July to submit her paperwork. It was only then, she said, when she learned that no outside agency would be allowed to use the cafeteria or gymnasium of any of the district’s elementary schools, making the financials a moot point.
“Initially when I got word on what was going on, they were talking about the summertime,” she said. “Never did I think we wouldn’t have our home back after the summer. It wasn’t really clear to me what they were saying.”
Rachel Andrews, PAY’s program director, said the agency is willing to pay a rental fee. “We are nonprofit; let us know what that rent is. Maybe we can work something out budget-wise. That was not information that was provided to us,” she said. “It kind of seems that we answer one question, and then there’s another issue.”
Mr. Croston has a different account on what the district asked of PAY.
“We were not requesting this current fiscal year numbers, we were requesting any numbers,” Mr. Croston said Friday.The information is necessary, he said, because the district needs to know that outside groups using school facilities are truly serving the community.
“As far as the School Community’s perspective goes, we want to know who is PAY, what is their present standing and who’s on their board. The onus shouldn’t be on us. The onus is on them to show us how they are serving the community,” said Mr. Croston, adding that PAY did not provide that information despite being given at least five months to do so.
“They’re riding in on the 23rd and a half hour and saying, ‘Now we’’ll pay,’” he said.
In addition, Mr. DiIuro said under the School Department’s policy, PAY never should have been using the Hathaway cafetorium and gymnasium in the first place.
“The cafeteria and gymnasium at each of our elementary schools are not available for rent, never have been and, quite frankly, I don’t understand how they were ever in there using those facilities. It’s not like the policy was changed,” he said.
According to Mr. DiIuro, PAY was offered to pay the nonprofit rate to rent the same rooms available to any other group, such as classrooms, the theaters and the gymnasiums at the high school and middle school. That was made clear to PAY in March if not earlier, he said.
Parents being notified
According to Ms. Pacheco, anywhere from 35 to 40 children have been enrolled in PAY’s after-school program over the past two years. Of those, about 20 kids were “full-timers” — those who attended five days a week.
It’s unlikely that PAY will be able to find another place before school starts since it needs to be licensed by DCYF for a specific location, she said. The agency received an OK to use the Masonic Lodge for its summer program as a temporary solution, but it’s licensed to run its after-school program out of a cafeteria or gym only, she said.
PAY spent last week notifying parents that the after-school program will probably shut down.“It’s really sad because of all the families that have been involved and all the high school kids who volunteer to get community service hours,” said Ms. Pacheco, adding that the program also welcomes kids with mental challenges. “We have a lot of children who aren’t allowed to go to different programs because they have certain issues. We never discriminate between anybody and welcome everyone.”
Some of the kids involved in PAY “grew up” in the program and now work for her, said Ms. Pacheco. One of them is Nadia Lucier, 18, who spent three years in the after-school program and started volunteering at 16 before being hired.
Ms. Lucier said she’ll be sad if the after-school program is discontinued because it had such a strong impact on her life.
“It’s going to have an impact on their lives, too,” she said, pointing to the kids who were scattered around her on the last day of the summer program Friday.
Chris Shaw, whose 9-year-old daughter Lauren has been enrolled in PAY’s after-school and summer programs for the past year, said he will need to “scramble to find some sort of after-school coverage,” whether it be sports or something else.
“A lot of people will be in that situation. It’s going to be a mad panic to find something. It’s a shame; hopefully they can figure it out,” he said.
Ms. Vincent said at this late stage, she may need to backtrack to Middletown to drop off her son at the YMCA’s child care program before heading to her job in North Providence. However, she said, that would make her commute — already two to two and a half hours round trip — even longer.
“We were in Bristol prior and they have a before- and after-school program and it was fabulous,” said Ms. Vincent. “Hopefully Portsmouth will do something similar. It will be helpful. I don’t know what other people in this predicament do.”
Non-profit status reinstated
PAY has always described itself as a nonprofit agency, but that status has been questioned by school officials recently.
“A general question we have had is, is it a nonprofit serving the community or is for-profit, charging customers?” said Mr. Croston.
According to the Rhode Island secretary of state’s website, he said Friday, PAY hadn’t filed any corporation papers since 2008. “It’s not clear to us where they stand right now,” he said.
Indeed, under its listing of domestic non-profit corporations on Monday, the secretary of state’s office listed PAY’s status as being revoked in April 2008.
Notified Monday of Mr. Croston’s comments, Ms. Pacheco said the agency has always been a nonprofit and expressed surprise that the secretary of state’s website stated otherwise.
After making a call to the office, Ms. Pacheco blamed the oversight to a “miscommunication” and filed the appropriate papers that afternoon. By Tuesday morning, the website had PAY classified as an active nonprofit again.