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Mon, June 24

Prescott Unified School District board to decide future of Kids & Co.

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>
Katrina Nickle, 7, and Rachel Ashby, 6, work together on a project during arts and crafts at the Kids & Co. after-school program in Prescott.

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br> Katrina Nickle, 7, and Rachel Ashby, 6, work together on a project during arts and crafts at the Kids & Co. after-school program in Prescott.

When Kids & Co. director Nicole McNally appears before the Prescott Unified School District Governing Board Tuesday evening to discuss whether the program is a viable option for the 2011-12 school year, she will be backed up by parents who passionately support the program.

The governing board will meet at 5:30 p.m. June 7 in the district boardroom, located at 146 S. Granite St. The meeting is open to the public.

The district started Kids & Co. during the 2002-03 school year to provide before- and after-school care for elementary students, and it has never made a profit. According to McNally, the program is currently $20,000 in the hole.

Kids & Co. currently has about 320 students enrolled, including 180 in the after-school program and an additional 140 enrolled in the fall, winter, spring and summer camps. More than 50 students have some type of special needs, and 18 of those children have specific modifications within the program.

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Joe Howard said school officials will "look at the validity of the program and whether it can continue. The question for the board is if what the district is losing is a benefit to the district."

Ask the parents whose children attend Kids & Co. during the school year and its summer camp and they will tell you how beneficial it is to them and how much their children love it, and how upset they are about the possibility it will close.

Single parents do not know what they would do without it, and in families in which both parents work, mothers fear having to quit their jobs.

Single dad Joe Morgan enrolls his son, Colton, in the program.

"I don't have anyone else to watch him. Plus he loves it here," Morgan said. Colton attends summer camp and goes to Kids & Co. after school during the school year.

Colton said he likes playing with his friends and participating in games.

It is not about the games for Chino Valley parent David Pratt. It is a matter of having qualified, trained people caring for his son.

"There isn't a teenager talking on the phone or texting with no idea where my son is. It is Kim (Barker), who if I walk in and ask about my son, she can tell me exactly where he is," Pratt explained.

Kim Barker is the Kids & Co. site director at Miller Valley Elementary School.

Pratt added that his son has "issues" and the staff "works with him. They are kind, compassionate and patient with him. They don't let him run amok; they keep him in check, and he is comfortable with that."

David Pratt's wife, Billie, said students get help with their homework, which other places may not provide.

"I work in Dewey and if this is not here, I will have to quit my job and enroll James in the Chino Valley School District," Billie Pratt said.

Barker is concerned for parents who are struggling financially.

"I worry about the kids. They are like my kids. But my biggest fear is what the parents are going to do. Most can't afford to go anyplace else," Barker noted.

McNally stated that the district made a decision to not turn any child away because of their parents' inability to pay.

"I have to make more and more deals, and charge fees on a sliding scale," McNally said.

McNally explained that because of state budget cuts the Department of Economic Security still pays for people already in its system. It still accepts new applications and puts those people on a waiting list.

"If parents are on the waiting list, we honor the DES qualification and charge $1 a day. That does put us in a negative," McNally said

Tuition pays for salaries, supplies and field trips. However, the district supplements Kids & Co. when there is a deficit.

"We need to stay open. We have an awesome program and we are a benefit to the community," McNally noted.

As a single parent, Jennifer Luther said she has no other options for after-school care.

"I heard good things about the program; it is very organized and the staff knows all the parents and students. Kim takes a personal interest in every child. This is a safe, comfortable place," Luther said.

Even stay-at-home mom Lucy Hill is concerned about the possibility of Kids & Co. closing.

"I am lucky. My son has the option of attending Kids & Co. Other parents don't have that option. They have to work. It is kind of sad and pathetic," Hill stated.

In response to people who may say it is not the district's responsibility to provide after- school care, McNally agrees - to a certain point.

"It is our responsibility as educators (to ensure) that every child has an equal opportunity to be taken care of. If parents have to work, children need a safe place they can go. We have to get the board to understand these kids need us; the parents need us," McNally stated.

She added that cutting the program and abandoning the parents and students "is not the way we run our district."

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