Some in Beaufort see shortage of after-school care

tbarton@islandpacket.comAugust 24, 2013 

Some Beaufort parents say they no longer have affordable after-school care because of a partnership between a new charter school and the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club.

Beaufort Elementary parent Daisy McLean applied this summer to place her son, a second grader, in the club's after-school program, only to learn there was no room.

All of the club's 100 spots had been filled by students from Bridges Preparatory School, which opened Monday with an enrollment of 360 students. The new charter school's students in grades two through six attend classes at the club on Boundary Street; students in kindergarten and first grade attend classes about a half-mile away, at Beaufort County's Charles Lind Brown Community Center.

"The kids at Beaufort Elementary or Mossy Oaks who weren't able to get into the charter school are now out of luck" for after-school care, McLean said Friday. "What happens to the kids who relied on the after-school programs before who now aren't able to?"

McLean is a single mother, part-time employee at a landscaping company and a part-time student at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. She said she now pays a neighbor $100 a week to baby-sit her son for two hours a day.

"I was able to make it work, but for some parents, that's their only option," McLean said.

Cost for a basic membership at the Boys & Girls Club is $5 a year, plus a $40 monthly activity fee based on a family's size. Need-based scholarships also are available, according Chris Protz, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry, the Beaufort club's parent organization.

Protz notes that the club's capacity has always been limited -- like any other Boys & Girls Club -- and not all applicants can be guaranteed spots in the after-school program.

Information on the number of children served in the after-school program last year and how many are now Bridges students getting the same care this year was not immediately available Friday.The building is also being put to other uses.

"The facility is now a charter school, and we are supporting that school in a limited fashion by serving 100 students in kindergarten through sixth grades after school ...," Protz said. "It isn't a Boys & Girls Club anymore. It's a school."

That came as a shock to McLean, but Protz said the decision to let Bridges Preparatory use the club as a temporary location in its inaugural year was a lifeline to the cash-strapped club.

"This partnership is a good way to better utilize space during the day and help the school and Boys & Girls Club at the same time," Protz said in March. "Money from the lease agreement will help us rebuild program opportunities and capacity we had to reduce because we were not meeting revenue goals."

The nonprofit club was forced to cut its summer program last year from 160 children to 80 to save about $50,000 and shore up a projected deficit of $213,000. The club was able to raise enough money and cut expenses to balance its budget, Protz said.

But some who depended on the club for after-school care have been displaced.

Gregory McCord, chief student services officer for the Beaufort County School District, said he has received five phone calls from parents in the past week asking if the district can help.

"They didn't want their child to be part of the latch-key kid generation," McCord said. "That's a legitimate concern, and we're going to see what we can do to assist. ... The shortage of services caught the school district off guard, as well."

McCord, at the urging of superintendent Jeffrey Moss, has contacted area churches to see if any can replicate services, which include tutoring, that were provided by the Boys & Girls Club. The club would offer training for church staff and volunteers, but would not pay for the programs and neither would the district, McCord said.

"I feel pretty positive we'll be able to help families out here soon," McCord said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

Related content:

Bridges Preparatory School's move to boost Beaufort Boys & Girls Club revenue: March 9, 2013

Bridges Preparatory School to be in Beaufort Boys & Girls Club: March 4, 2013

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