Despite a dearth of child care opportunities in South San Francisco, local school and community organization officials agreed to pull the plug on an after-school program for students at Alta Loma Middle School.The roughly 30 middle schoolers who had attended the after-school program at their home campus for the past two years will be invited to join a similar initiative offered by the Boys and Girls Club of North San Mateo County at Orange Park when the new school year starts, under a decision authorized last month by the South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees, said district spokesman Ryan Sebers. The school district and club worked together in operating the Alta Loma program, and officials from each organization expressed a dedication to maintaining as many child care services as possible in a community already pressed to accommodate demand.“Both the [Boys and Girls Club] and [South San Francisco Unified School District] firmly believe that [Alta Loma Middle School] students and parents have after-school youth development programs as an option with which to participate,” according to a district press release. “Both organizations remain committed to ensuring students have a place to attend for quality after school programs.”Aubrey Merriman, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of North San Mateo County, said he believed relocating the service would be in the best interest of Alta Loma students, as they would be folded into a similar program which already serves students from the South San Francisco’s two other middle schools at the Orange Park clubhouse.“This will increase the quality of the programming that the students will be exposed to, or have the opportunity to take advantage of,” he said.The Boys and Girls Club after-school program at Orange Park can serve up nearly two or three times the amount of students currently enrolled at Alta Loma Middle School, said Merriman, and the park facility offers improved amenities such as a computer lab and better collaborative space for students to interact.School district officials have considered offering the club financial assistance for operating the program serving those displaced by the closure at Alta Loma Middle School, or potentially sponsoring transportation from the school to Orange Park, but no official agreement is in place, according to Sebers.“We are working through the details with Boys & Girls Club and SSFUSD is exploring ways to provide financial assistance toward the transportation costs from ALMS to the Orange Park Clubhouse,” said Sebers. “We look forward to our continued partnership with Boys & Girls Club, students and families.”Though a cost sharing agreement has yet to be reached, Merriman said he believed in the commitment of officials from both organizations to work together in benefiting local students.“Even though we are shifting the location of the program, we are still able to collaborate with the school district through this process and make sure we are going to serve our students in the best way possible,” he said.The decision to discontinue the Alta Loma Middle School program is apart from the nature of the conversation school district officials had in May, when the district Board of Trustees examined opportunities to beef up available child care services.Most of the existing child care programs in South San Francisco, offered by the district of other community organizations such as the city or the Boys & Girls Club, are completely full and feature extensive waiting lists to join.According to a district report in May, the district serves 238 students in before- and after-school programs, while the city serves 450 children and the Boys and Girls club serves 261. The average waiting list to join a program across South San Francisco is 16 children, and while some programs have vacancy, others have waiting lists as long as 65 seeking a spot.Trustee John Baker shared on Twitter earlier this year video footage of tents full of people lined up overnight waiting for the first opportunity to register their child in a city child care program.Yet despite the substantial demand for such services, when school district officials discussed potentially expanding child care programs, a variety of hurdles such as budget constraints and limited campus facilities were identified.School principals had said inadequate space exists on some campuses to accommodate the modular buildings used to host child care programs as a source of concern when discussing expanding the services.Additionally, the district’s financial struggles were compounded in June when the district board approved an operating budget which projects a deficit in coming years, primarily due to a decrease in student enrollment and transferring money from the district’s general fund to backfill overspending of its school construction bond.Though the Alta Loma program will come to an end, school district officials are committed to working with partner organizations to ensuring their community will continue to have child care services, according to the report.“We look forward to our continued partnership with B&G Club, students and families,” according to the report.Merriman acknowledged there is a substantial demand for after-school programs in South San Francisco, and said he believed the larger program hosted at Orange Park would be the best, most efficient use of resources in the attempt to serve a community need.“The great thing is that this is aligning with a model that already exists,” he said. “I think it is going to be an adjustment, because all transitions come with that. But ultimately once we continue to move forward, I don’t think we are going to run into too many bumps down the road.”
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Note to readers: This article has been amended to remove a quote indicating school officials felt the program was not financially sustainable.