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Cleveland approves millions for youth summer recreation, wants more Browns support

Youth players take turns shooting during a basketball game in the Revolutionary Minds Summer League at Jefferson Park in Cleveland.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Youth players took the court during a basketball game in the Revolutionary Minds Summer League at Jefferson Park in Cleveland.

From football to tennis to recreational center support, Cleveland City Council approved millions in spending on Monday for extracurriculars and services for the city's youth ahead of school break and council's summer recess.

The biggest spend was a $950,000 contract between Cleveland's public works and finance departments and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to support sports and other extracurricular programs for Cleveland students throughout the school year.

Some members criticized details of that contract. Ward 8's Mike Polensek pointed to conditions of school facilities — particularly pools, none of which are currently operational.

"There's no excuse for a pool to be closed. And our kids denied that opportunity," he told CMSD representatives at a Monday committee meeting. "A lot of us are not happy with the things that our kids are being denied... We can't get buildings fixed, we can't get this repaired... and I'm looking at this programming and these high schools. Something's got to give here."

Desiree Powell, the executive director of athletics and student activities, said the district is currently working with the YMCA to pilot a free swimming program that provides fourth graders with a swimsuit, travel bag and swim lessons.

Ward 16's Brian Kazy told the district it needs to be more collaborative with other youth recreational programs, pointing to the Neighborhood Leadership Institute. Council also approved a $289,500 contract with the nonprofit Monday to implement educational and recreational programs including a summer tennis program for Cleveland's youth, but Kazy said more than $70,000 of that is going to rent to CMSD.

"If we have another organization that we’re providing taxpayers’ dollars to and the majority of those resources are going to CMSD kids for after-school resources, I really do believe that CMSD probably needs to work with Neighborhood Leadership Institute in order to collaborate so they’re not paying ... the dollars we’re giving them to rent to CMSD, and then CMSD is here looking for 950K from us," he said. "Something's not jiving here."

City continues funding for youth football league, wants more investment from Browns

City Council also approved $160,000 to bolster the more-than-century -old Cleveland Muny Football League, which provides free programming to thousands of Cleveland kids.

Last year, more than 2,500 children participated in tackle football, with 3,000 kids enrolled this summer. An additional 1,300 are signed up for flag football.

"We know how important it is; it saves lives," said Council President Blaine Griffin.

In addition to the ongoing cheerleading program, the league's president Joe Reccord said the league is adding flag football for girls this summer. There are currently six female teams, but he expects that number to increase. There are 115 teams for boys.

Council members took the opportunity to take aim at the Cleveland Browns, who contributed $30,000 toward the program — less than a fifth of what the city is funding.

"Ain't that big of them? $30,000? You’ve got to be kidding me… When we’re given them millions and millions of dollars?" said Council Member Mike Polensek. "They ought to be embarrassed. They ought to be totally embarrassed when we pay for everything down there.”

Council member Blaine Griffin said he could not "defend the indefensible" and that a request has already been made with the Browns to increase partnership with the city and programs such as this.

The digs come as Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam are reportedly considering a move out of Cleveland's Downtown to the neighboring suburb of Brook Park. After that news broke, Council Member Brian Kazy, who has been vocal in his criticism of the teams' billionaire owners, introduced legislation to order the city's law director to enforce a state law that requires ownership of a team that uses city-funded facilities or taxpayer dollars to follow a legal process before it leaves city limits.

That ordinance also passed Monday evening.

More security coming to recreation centers

Cleveland will also double security efforts at all of the city's recreational centers' pools, increasing the budget from $1.2 million to $2.4 million to employ more security in eight-hour shifts instead of four.

"Part of this is looking for good role models for young people," said Sam Gissentaner, the city's commissioner of recreation. "Being able to encourage and engage with young people to join the safety forces. This is more than an authority at the front door — we’re looking for officers to be engaged and interact with not only children but adults.”

The city will not be renewing its contract with its current security provider, which has had "some problems" and will be putting out a request for bids on the new contract, Gissentaner said.

Council also approved a $150,000 contract with Case Western Reserve University's National Youth Sports Program to provide Cleveland youths with a summer sports, nutrition, health and life skills development program.

Updated: May 7, 2024 at 5:12 PM EDT
This story was updated to include an additional contract approved by council with CWRU to provide youth summer programming.
Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.