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Cleveland after-school providers worry about loss of programs with budget cuts looming

Cleveland Metropolitan School District headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Metropolitan School District headquarters in Downtown Cleveland. The school district is currently considering a budget reduction plan that advocates worry will include cuts to after-school programs.

As Cleveland Metropolitan School District prepares to contend with a budget deficit by mid-2025, a group of concerned Clevelanders is speaking out about the impact budget cuts could have on the district’s after-school programs.

CMSD has more than 90 after-school programs at locations across the city, according to the group Clevelanders for Afterschool, and they argue those programs play a vital role in keeping students safe and engaged.

CMSD is forecasting an $18.3 million deficit by the time the next budget year ends in summer 2025, a deficit which it's estimating will balloon to more than $160 million at the end of the following fiscal year. While the school district has not announced any cuts yet, CMSD CEO Warren Morgan has said tough decisions are coming.

Candice Grose, CMSD’s communications officer, said “no decision has been made on this matter” when asked if the district is considering cutting the after-school programs.

“We understand that this is an issue of great interest to our stakeholders," Grose said, "and we are committed to thoroughly exploring all options and gathering input from all relevant parties before reaching a decision. In the meantime, we remain focused on our mission of providing a high-quality education to our students and supporting our dedicated teachers and staff."

David Smith, executive director of Horizon Education Centers, which runs five after-school programs at CMSD, said despite the lack of any announcement on possible cuts, he believes the writing is on the wall. Smith is also a member of the group, Clevelanders for Afterschool, which he described as a coalition of concerned providers, parents and educators.

“When the budget axe comes out, we’re usually the prime victim,” he said of after-school programs.

School districts across the region typically handle after-school programs with a mix of in-house staff and local partners, with funding often coming from grants from the state or federal government. Smith said CMSD's current slate of 93 after-school programs is supported mostly by federal pandemic relief funds, which are expiring soon. He said the school district significantly boosted the number of after-school programs through that one-time funding, hence the worries about the programs dissipating. The school district didn't respond to a follow-up request for clarification on the budget for the programs and how pandemic relief funds it

After-school program coordinators, staff and families came out to Tuesday's CMSD Board of Education meeting to ask the district not to cut funding for the programs.

Deborah Bridges, the mother of three CMSD students, said Horizon’s after-school programs have been beneficial for her kids, providing snacks and help with homework while she’s still at work. She added she’s not able to afford childcare to take care of them until she gets home, so the after-school programs fill that gap.

Once these kids get tossed into the streets, that's when you end up with the 'Kia Boys',” she said, referring to reports of groups of teenagers stealing cars in Cleveland and elsewhere. “And I don't want my kids to be a part of it.”

Tevin Rey, site coordinator of the Horizon after-school program at Paul L. Dunbar Elementary school, said they provide mentors who are “accountability partners” for the students.

I'm trying to be the best role model I can, to create more positive difference makers in the community out here,” he said.

Smith, with Horizon Education Centers, said the after-school programs they provide include a mix of educational programming and “fun” to try to encourage students to keep coming back.

CMSD students who participated in after-school programs showed higher school attendance rates and higher scores on state English and math tests, according to a fact sheet provided by Clevelanders for Afterschool.

The Board of Education is expected to approve a deficit-reduction plan that will be shared with the Ohio Department of Education sometime in February, according to a timeline shared with the board during its Jan. 9 meeting.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.