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After-school programs canceled at five city schools

Some Buffalo parents are scrambling to find after-school care for their children because city schools canceled after-school programs at the end of January.

The five schools affected were some of those included in Say Yes Buffalo’s proposal to launch after-school programs at 28 schools, a plan that was ultimately scaled back because of funding shortages.

Although funding for the programs had not been finalized until late January, some schools launched programs in the fall anyway.

Now, those that were not selected for the scaled-back Say Yes program have to cancel them.

“I’m worried about the single parents that have to figure out what to do with their kids,” said Hillery Park Elementary School 27 parent Lynette Hare, whose child was among those affected. “It’s hard to get day care, and it’s hard to pay $200 a week for it. You’re just giving kids another reason to be on the streets.”

Buffalo Public Schools spokeswoman Elena Cala said the programs that ended Friday were all scheduled to end at the end of January, and the district had never finalized funding for them.

All five of the schools that canceled their programs are deemed to be schools in good standing. Leaders with the district and Say Yes opted to fund the programs at schools with the highest needs, Cala said.

The cancellations are the latest hurdle for district and Say Yes leaders trying to implement after-school programs. Research has consistently reinforced the importance of such programs, especially in high-needs school districts such as Buffalo where students struggle to meet state standards.

District leaders have said extending learning time for students is a key priority in improving performance. Last year, Say Yes came to the table to help develop a widespread after-school program that would build upon what students learn during the school day, while also supplementing it with enrichment activities.

But implementation of the programs has been hampered by difficulties in coming up with the funding to pay for them.

The original Say Yes plan called for offering after-school programs in 28 schools, five days a week for two hours a day starting last October. However, questions about how the programs would be paid for stalled their full implementation. The plan would have cost the district $14 million, an amount that was never formally allocated.

Leaders with Say Yes and the district ultimately came to an agreement to fund the Say Yes programs at eight schools. Although the original Say Yes plan would have served about 9,300 students, the new downsized version will reach, at most, 5,665.

There are 17 other Buffalo schools with after-school programs being paid for by special grants, and those programs will continue. The five others – all schools meeting state academic standards – will cancel theirs.

David Rust, Say Yes Buffalo’s executive director, said he was not aware some of those programs had already started.

Parents at Hillery Park Elementary School 27 received a letter dated Jan. 22 explaining that the after-school program would end at the end of January, and that their children would return home on the regular 3:30 p.m. bus after dismissal.

“As the school leader at Hillery Park, I realize the district’s limited funding for after school programming is allocated to schools on the basis of student academic need,” School 27 Principal Maria Fasolino said in an email. “Hillery Park is designated as a School in Good Standing. As such, we will continue to uphold the same high standards in our daily instruction that contribute to student success.”

Hare, the parent, said she has been under the impression since the program started in October that it would run the entire school year.

“All of the sudden now I get this letter in the mail,” she said of the cavalier way the cancellation was handled. “It was like ‘no big deal.’ ”