The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

November 23, 2013

Balancing the city budget on kids' backs

By Karyl Sage Local Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — It is ironic that the Nov. 12 issue of The Daily Star carried a story on Page 2 that the city is considering charging fees for recreation programs and paying the YMCA $65,000 for programming, staff and supplies, and on Page 3 a column by Cary Brunswick describes how poverty can affect the outcome of test scores for our youth.

Academic, social and physical skills are necessary for all youth, to varying degrees. We want children to learn to read, be a participating member of society and to function physically to the best of their ability. To help offset budget costs, the city is considering charging children for youth activities, primarily swimming lessons, by privatizing parts of the city recreation program.

This raises two areas of concern. Is it necessary to privatize portions of services that are normally provided by the city and how will the charge affect children? This may be a slippery slope with the beginning of privatization, starting with one service area and then leading to another, with the city slowly losing control of programs.

Second, with the poverty rate of Oneonta children at 22 percent, a fifth of local children may not be able to participate. Swimming may be considered a recreation by some, but teaching a child a needed lifelong skill falls in the area of survival.

In the 2012 Parks and Recreation report of pool usage, 149 city children and 158 non-resident children registered for swimming lessons and 271 city children and 287 non-resident children participated in youth programs. If the 158 children registered for swimming lessons paid a $10 fee the city would have received $1,580, and if all children were charged $10 the grand total would have been $3,070. That’s a long way from the cost of $65,000.

In consideration of charging for swimming lessons, the city is also looking at no charge for city children but charging for non-residents. Must we segregate our youth? Children enrolled in The Oneonta School District reside in the city of Oneonta, and various parts of the towns of Laurens, Milford and Davenport. These students go to school, play on teams and interact with each other daily.

And remember, the town of Oneonta has a swimming pool within 100 feet of the city line. Spend a summer morning near the town pool and watch from which direction the children arrive. A high percentage are “city” children.

Philanthropic families saw a need for swimming pools for Oneonta. The Briggs Family donated the Wilber Pool. The Wright family donated a swimming pool at the Oneonta High School that the Board of Education could not sustain.

At a recent economic summit, one discussion focused on the characteristics that businesses examine before locating in community. A good school system and youth programs are necessary.

Solutions to budget problems are difficult. For consideration:

• If children must pay for programs, consider doing it by those enrolled in the local school system or by zip code.

• Raise funds by: Ask for people to fill a “swimming pool bowl,” (small fish bowls or plastic pools for collections), like the Firemen’s Fill the Boot collection.

• Ask local businesses to sell paper fish ($1 each) to put in their windows like the MS fund collection.

• Ask for sponsors. Many businesses would donate.

•  Ask the college swim teams to hold fund raisers.

• Charge admission for a water show at the end of the season.

• Ask businesses that use the new city brand “Life Enjoyed” for a small fee to recover the more than $20,000 that was spent for its development, and to insure that life is enjoyed by our youth.

Or, let’s just support what we value: our children. Don’t change the first sentence in the Parks and Recreation statement: The City of Oneonta is proud to offer a wide variety of FREE youth programs for children of all ages.

KARYL SAGE is an Oneonta resident and a retired elementary teacher.