Community after-school programs hit a wall

Black Diamond and Maple Valley programs face uncertainty

Parents in the Black Diamond and Maple Valley areas may soon need to find a new place to house their children before and after school.

Citing an erosion of funding over the years, the Greater Maple Valley Community Center announced Friday the youth after-school program will be suspended effective Sept. 30. Additionally, the Black Diamond Community Center hopes to transition its own before and after school kids program to a new home, but communication struggles with the city have left its future up in the air.

According to a GMVCC press release, 60 percent of the Maple Valley Community Center’s funding is generated through government and corporate/foundation grants. The remainder comes from a combination of United Way, private contributions, fundraising and program fees. King County cut $40,000 from its youth program in 2012 and the Washington State Department of Transportation cut $37,500 more in 2013. On top of that, corporate and foundation funding has “declined significantly” because donors have not fully recovered from the recession.

“The bottom line is that since 2007 the Community Center has drawn upon our operating reserves in order to continue our programming without interruption,” wrote Mark Pursley, the GMVCC’s Executive Director, in a press release. “We cannot continue this practice and keep our doors open. As with most human service agencies, nearly two-thirds of our expenses are personnel related. Therefore, the only way to bring our budget into balance is through a reduction in staffing. This is similar to the situation that the organization faced last year as the Toddler Time program was impacted by the layoff of that program’s director.”

The GMVCC will also eliminate the Southeast Regional Shuttle’s Dial-a-Ride program, effective Sept. 30, though the GMVCC said it will maintain its Community Shuttle and volunteer driver programs.

“Reduced WSDOT funding coupled with the expectation of additional cuts (or even the elimination of all funding) in our upcoming contract negotiations led to this decision,” Pursley wrote. “Current clients, mostly seniors, will be provided with as many resources as possible to help them overcome the loss of this service.”

The GMVCC said it will continue to offer drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse and domestic violence prevention oriented programming in the schools. The Youth Council leadership group and youth targeted special events will also continue on a regular basis.

“We have already had conversations with the Tahoma School District to help direct those impacted youth toward other after-school activities,” Pursley wrote.

The Black Diamond situation is slightly more complex.

Black Diamond city staff and members of the Black Diamond Community Center are in the process of working out a way to keep the center’s program, known as BASK, running. Extra enrollment at the school is pushing the program out of Black Diamond Elementary, after spending a majority of its more than 20 years in one of the portable classrooms. The daycare is for elementary school aged children — kindergarten through fifth grade — and is currently limited to 14 students. Keith Watson, President of Black Diamond Community Center Board of Directors, said the program could expand to 30 children if it were held in the more spacious community gym, located at 25511 Lawson St.

Watson said the BDCC has a lease agreement with the city at the gym, but, for some unknown reason, a page of the lease has been lost by both the city and community center. Watson hopes to meet with city officials this week discuss a new lease drafted by the city attorney.

Among the issues, Watson said, are whether or not the city actually owns the gym. Also, Watson said the state requires 75 feet of outdoor recreation space for each student. Thus, for safety reasons, the city would need to build a fence. Watson said BDCC staff is in the process getting the gym in compliance with state regulations.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” Watson said.

BDCC Director Cheryl Hanson voiced concern over the city’s lack of initiative in addressing the matter at two City Council meetings. Watson said BDCC staff were not being apprised of how the city planned to move forward.

“We were the ones that had to be proactive and address this to the city,” he said. “I don’t know how much communication there is between council, city staff and the mayor’s office. One party suggests that the other party should be making the decisions. It was ‘that’s up to them.’ Those were the answers. Not, ‘gee, we should jointly try to get this done.’”

On top of the location issue, Watson fears the city may drop the group insurance plan that covers the gym and museum. If that is the case, the whole nonprofit community center may be forced to fold.

“We know council and the mayor are trying to save money anywhere they can,” Watson said. “If we have to pay for the community center (insurance) it would probably put the community center out of the business. Some of the quotes we have received are more than we can afford.”

Aaron Nix, Black Diamond Community Development Director, said in emails with The Reporter that the city is considering a move to the gym facility and is currently reviewing the city’s lease, including the ownership, with the BDCC.

Watson expressed optimism for a positive outcome, though he said some assurances would “give us some breathing room.”

“It’s a problem, but I think we’ll weather it,” Watson said. “Let’s hope they will continue to see the light and pay for the insurance.”

Watson said the BDCC’s insurance is valid through Dec. 1 and the program will continue at Black Diamond Elementary through June of next year. However, Watson said renting the portables previously cost $10 per month, but that price jumped starting in August to more than $300 monthly.

“That really puts it on us to get busy and make a change,” Watson said. “We don’t have an unlimited source of income, that’s for sure.”

Black Diamond Councilwoman Janie Edelman told The Reporter the situation is not all “gloom and doom” and that the city staff wants what is best for the city and its citizens.

“I’m sure it will all work out,” Edelman said. “They just need to allow the system to work.”

Watson said the BDCC will hold an auction dinner fundraiser Oct. 4 to raise money for the potential move.