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RED TAPE DELAYS START OF AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAM

The start of a popular after-school program for Buffalo youngsters has been delayed by nearly two months.

A missed filing deadline, last-minute changes by Common Council members and a slow city bureaucracy have combined to push back the start of the Lighted Schoolhouse Program at two dozen schools and community centers.

The program at the schools may begin by next week -- the latest start ever, said Dexter Frank, the program's coordinator.

"It's quite a maddening process," Frank said of the administrative steps needed to get the program up and running every year. "We have to go through a lot of steps in the process."

The program, intended to keep youths off the streets at night, generally runs from 6 to 9 p.m. for several months during the school year. The program provides access to a school gymnasium or swimming pool and includes arts and crafts and other recreational activities.

Participating schools open their gymnasiums two or three nights a week for the program.

Several thousand children have signed up for the program in previous years.

Between 25 and 100 children between the ages of 8 and 15 may show up at any one time at the schools, supervised by a handful of adults.

In the past, the program has started as early as November and run through April. More recently, the program has started later.

But children have never before waited as long as this year.

Buffalo brought the delay on itself when city officials missed a block grant filing deadline last year after the Masiello administration and the Council quarreled over what projects to include.

Instead of submitting its spending plan for community development programs by the March 17 deadline, the city waited until August.

"That was an initial reason for the delay," said Council Member at Large Rosemarie LoTempio, Council majority leader. "It was filed really late."

Once the federal government approved the block grant, procedural steps had to be taken by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, which funnels the money to the programs receiving the federal anti-poverty aid.

The agency monitors the eligibility of the programs, keeps records and makes sure the money is being properly spent, said Michael L. McCarthy, the agency's secretary and general counsel.

The block grant spending reached the Council for approval in January, but the Lighted Schoolhouse Program was delayed for another few weeks because Council members wanted to add a couple of schools to the program, LoTempio said.

While the program is starting late, the children won't be cheated out of time they can participate in the program, Frank said.

The program will run longer into the summer than in previous years, he said.

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