After-school program seeks community support

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

A teacher at High Desert Leapin’ Lizards’ after-school program addressed Ridgecrest City Council at its Oct. 16 meeting, asking for support for the service to students and families in our local district.

Manuel Fierro noted that California voters approved a proposition for after-school education and safety in 2002. HDLL now operates programs at Faller, Inyokern and Pierce elementary schools in the Sierra Sands Unified School District.

Fierro noted that rather than providing a daycare service, the program aligns with state curriculum standards to offer an extended school day for students.

The staff provides a structured program that promotes social, emotional, physical and academic enhancement. Fierro said that the availability of the program means fewer children are likely to go home to an empty house and more parents are able to keep their jobs.

Lisa Decker, coordinator of state and federal programs for SSUSD, said HDLL is contracted for services through an After School Education and Safety grant. With rising operational costs — including the mandatory increases in minimum-wage rates — the costs of the program have historically outpaced the available funding.

Decker said that the district worked with HDLL to develop a voluntary family contribution of $100 per year (or $80 for students who qualify for the free- and reduced-cost lunch program) to help bridge the gap.

The district was able to raise $6,700 through those contributions, which helped offset the rising staffing costs.

“This year we also got an 8-percent increase — which helped a lot,” said Decker.

The total grant for the 2019-20 program, which serves about 230 students across the three school sites, was $385,817.50.

Decker said she believes the program is not under immediate threat of closure, but she agreed that SSUSD staff continues to monitor many challenges that lie ahead.

“There is ongoing legislation under consideration that will provide an additional increase in funding,” she said. “Unfortunately, the state has switched its focus from after-school care to preschool care,” further dividing the available education funding.

“We do have what we need to operate in the near future. But we continue to analyze our budget, our options and our needs every year.”

Story First Published: 2019-10-25