The Moravia Town Council has voted to stop operating its summer recreation program after losing thousands of dollars on it in recent years.
The town council made the unanimous decision at a meeting Nov. 28, town supervisor Terry Baxter said earlier this week. When Baxter asked the Moravia Central School District Board of Education to take over the program at an October meeting, he said the town had lost around $17,000 through the program over the last three years.
The financial burden of running the program, though, is likely not something the school district will pick up, the district's superintendent said this week.
The program involved various recreational activities over six weeks every summer at the Fillmore Glen State Park in Moravia, with a little over 200 children from kindergarten to sixth grade in the program earlier this year. Children in the Moravia school district are eligible for the program, with students from the town of Moravia, the village of Moravia, the town of Locke and the town of Niles participating over the last decade.
Municipalities are supposed to pay for children in their area to participate, with the town of Moravia running the program, but the funds that were coming in weren't covering costs. The town calculated the cost per student to be about $210, between the cost of supplies, the $1,050 fee the park charged the town to host the program and the salaries of employees such as the program's two directors, program counselors, a nurse and a lifeguard. Baxter had previously said the recent program cost around $40,000 total.
Baxter said municipalities would set aside a certain amount to pay for the program, but have to deal with factors they can't necessarily account for between November — when municipalities typically decide their annual budgets — and July, such as how much snow removal an area will require. As a result, some towns were not paying for their share of the program.
Two of the municipalities have agreed to pay back some of the money from this year's loss, Baxter said. He noted that Locke also recently voted to no longer participate in the program, which would have raised costs for the remaining municipalities, as the cost would be divided between fewer entities.
Baxter said he believes the school district is better qualified to run the program than the town "because they have the jurisdiction" over the municipalities, as municipalities send their children to attend school in the district and pay school taxes.
"I think there's a good reason and benefit to having a summer recreation program for the kids," Baxter said.
John Birmingham, superintendent of the Moravia school district, said in an email this week he has studied the issue since Baxter approached the board in October. He said he reviewed the town's summer recreation budget and the district's budget and "surveyed school districts in the area to see if there was a regional model of how this would run that we could look towards for specifics," but found none.
Birmingham said the district understands the value of the program, but said taking it over is not financially viable. The program's annual cost in 2018 is equal to about 20 percent of the tax levy increase in this year's district budget, he said.
"We are saddened by the loss of the program. Unfortunately, the school district is not in position to fill that void by assuming programmatic and financial control of the program. While we understand the benefits of summer recreation, the Board of Education cannot justify adding to the tax burden of its residents," Birmingham said.
He said the district was willing to work with the town to find and secure revenue sources such as private or public grants, give transportation for field trips, allow the use of school facilities and more.
Speaking of community reaction to the town's decision, Birmingham said he is aware of many parents voicing their disappointment at the town council meeting.
"These parents and other community members would like to see the program continue and are willing to be part of a committee to help save this program. Many of the parents that have reached out to me personally do not believe that the school should assume programmatic and financial control of the program," he said.
A community member has asked to talk about the issue at the district's next board of education meeting, which takes place Wednesday. Every person who wants to be heard will be able to do so under the established guidelines for addressing the board, Birmingham said.
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.
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