Schenectady County plans to get into the summer day camp business, tapping its operating budget to run a six-week program in Central Park primarily for inner-city children.
Ed Kosiur, special assistant to the commissioner of social services, pitched the program to county legislators Monday night during their committee meeting. They will vote on the proposal Tuesday.
Kosiur’s program is slated to run July 7 to Aug. 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will take a maximum of 75 children on a first-come, first-served basis. The fee is $50 per child per week; children ages 7-12 are eligible.
“This program is desperately needed,” Kosiur told legislators. “There are youths walking the streets in need of things to do.”
The nonprofits which operate summer day camps do not offer them in the city, with the exception of a drop-in program at Quackenbush pool, Kosiur said.
He said his familiarity with operations of the Boys and Girls Clubs, for which he worked several years, indicates its summer program usually has a waiting list.
He said he has not spoken with the Schenectady YMCA about its program.
Kerri DiCaprio, who runs the Schenectady YMCA’s summer day camp program, said she did not know the county planned a summer day camp. Officials from the Boys and Girls Club were not available for comment
Kosiur’s half-day program will offer swimming in the Central Park pool from 9 a.m. to noon and provide a computer technology class at Central Park Middle School. Cornell Cooperative Extension will provide horticulture activities in the Schenectady Horticulture Education Center. Tennis and boating also will be provided.
The county will begin signing up children June 2, Kosiur said. Staffing will be based on the number of children enrolled. If 75 children are enrolled, the camp’s full staff will include a director and five recreation leaders, plus summer youth employment participants.
The county has set aside $21,000 to pay for camp staff and professional services. As the money comes from the operating budget — not from money set aside for youth bureau services — the county can charge a fee for the program, according to state officials.
The county, which is looking at a deficit going into 2009 of at least $5 million, hopes to recoup the day camp money through enrollment fees, Kosiur said.
The proposal is Kosiur’s latest effort since the Democrat-controlled county Legislature gave him an $80,000 annual job by eliminating Youth Bureau Director Shane Bargy’s civil-service-protected job. Bargy held the job for five years and was told near the end of last year’s budget discussions his office would be restructured. He left county employment last week to become director of the Boys & Girls Club in Atlantic City.
Bargy said during his five-year tenure as youth bureau director the most he received from the county in any one year for programming was $2,000, despite requests for additional funding.
Bargy, now in his new job, said he was surprised to learn the Legislature plans to give Kosiur 10 times that amount for a program which he said could prove problematic. He said other summer day camps in the county are full-day programs and that parents do not want to drop off their children for just a half day, as is the case with the county program. He also questioned whether parents would be able to afford the weekly fee.
DiCaprio agreed with Bargy, saying that “full day is absolutely better than half day. We did a survey of our parents and they pushed for full day.” The YMCA program starts at 8 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. It has a capacity of 100 children and always fills its quota. The program cost $150 per child for non-YMCA members and $120 for members. Scholarships are offered to offset tuition.
Kosiur said his half-day program is a pilot project. “We want to start out as a small operation and enhance this program next year, building on our successes, perhaps moving it into Collins Park in Scotia,” he said.
Minority Leader Robert Farley, R-Niskayuna, said the county should not compete with nonprofits that are running their own summer day camps. “We really ought to reconsider this before we do it. We ought to discuss this with the nonprofits rather than have the county enter this business and create more government positions,” he said.