BLAST! program will lose grant funding

Butler’s Learning After School Time, or BLAST!, has reached the end of its grant.

However, the program will continue.

“The 21st Century (Learning Center) Grant is the federal grant that we get, and you only get it five years for the first time and a five-year continuation,” Lyndsey Steck, BLAST! coordinator, said. “After that, you don’t get anymore funds.”

The after-school program provides 120 Fort Dodge Community School District students with both activities and structured study times.

The grant covers 75 percent of the year-long program’s $100,000 budget, according to Steck, with the bulk of the funds going toward staff.

“Ninety-five percent of our budget is to pay for our staff and staff IPERS,” she said. “The pay the teachers get was negotiated through the teacher’s union, so what they’re paid we can’t change, basically.”

BLAST!, as a result, will have to begin charging parents for the program starting with the 2013-2014 school year.

“To function on a quarter of the budget, you’d have to significantly change what the program itself looks like,” Jennifer Lane, FDCSD communications director, said.

Knowing the federal grant, issued at the state level, was at the end of its term, Steck sought other alternatives to fund the programming but found none.

“We applied for it as a district as a whole, because there were questions if we could use it for other schools,” she said. “And we can’t because we applied for it as the Fort Dodge Community School District.”

The BLAST! advisory committee and school district decided not to alter the program and instead charge a small fee.

“We didn’t want to change what it looked like because there is such a need for it in the community,” Steck said. “I’ve always had a waiting list, all year, for kids who want to come into BLAST.”

Steck said the rate is minimal, and lower than the cost of other area child care options.

The fees, which will cover half the program cost, will be prepaid on a monthly basis and on a sliding scale based on their free or reduced lunch fee.

“If the child is on free lunch they would pay one fee, if they’re on reduced lunch they pay a different fee and if they pay full lunch there’s a third fee that they would be assessed,” Lane said.

The other half of the program’s annual cost will be covered through fundraisers and community contributions. In the past, the program has received funds from Fort Dodge Noon Kiwanis and raised money through public concerts organized by the Fort Dodge Noon Rotary Club.

Steck, meanwhile, will investigate private grant options for the future.

“The state of Iowa doesn’t currently have any grants for after-school programming,” Steck said. “That is a topic at legislation right now, but that probably won’t come through for at least a couple of years, they said.”

Parents with children in the program were kept informed of the changes, including the sliding-scale structure for fees. Steck said parents have been supportive.

“If they support our program, the response is going to be positive,” she said. “I’ve had good feedback, a lot of people like our program. I’ve got responses back that they’re coming. I guess we’ll just see.”

Lane said the district supports BLAST! and wants to see the program continue.

“We want those kids to be here. It’s a solid program, obviously it gets results, and we want the kids to be able to participate in it,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can from our end to ensure that can happen.”