Parents urge support for special needs

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Rec district board promises to keep program intact

By Vicky Gits

About a dozen members of the special-needs classes and their parents made an appearance at a rec district board meeting Nov. 18 to express concerns about the special-needs program under the district’s recently announced reorganization plan.

“The restructuring and reorganization is confusing, and the discussion about (program director Maren Schreiber) has left us concerned about our future,” said Robin Coursen, spokesperson for the group and a parent of a child in the program.

“We want to understand the special-needs budget,” Coursen said. “We are kind of burned out on the fund-raising. We have done some analysis, and it’s really inefficient the way it is being done.”

Judging from her comments, the parents are worried there isn’t enough money in the draft 2009 budget to support the program and activities at the same level. The park district conducted a study last summer showing the special-needs program was expected to lose about $10,000 this year.

Special needs has for years been heavily subsidized by outside fund-raising efforts. Foothills Rotary stages an annual golf tournament that this year raised $21,000 for the special-needs program. Rotary also helped raise money for a mini-van. The Polar Plunge also raises money.

A lot of the responsibility for organizing the other events, which reportedly numbered more than 18 a year, fell to Schreiber and the parents.

Coursen stressed that the children love the program and that it takes a lot of “one-on-one” effort, in view of the demanding behavioral and physical needs.

“We have been informed the program operates at a loss. How will you develop programs for the coming year? Does the board have a plan to alleviate the burden of fund-raising? ” Coursen asked.

John Skeel, park district executive director, tried to reassure the parents that although the program operates at a loss, no activity cuts were being contemplated.

“I agree there are too many fund-raisers,” he said. “It does operate at a loss, as do other programs. As far as program cuts, we looked at no need for cuts … . There are people in place to help Maren. We will put more staff time into the golf tournament, which is a popular event.”

The district has no intention of reassigning Schreiber to another job, Skeel said.

“As long as she stays with the district, she will continue with special needs,” he said.

Skeel promised that Schreiber would spend less time on fund-raising in 2009. He said the new recreation supervisor, Kendra Hinkson, would work with Schreiber to come up with a job description that is more in line with her actual duties. Hinkson was formerly the building supervisor at the Wulf Recreation Center.

Another parent expressed a concern raised before in a parent meeting that special-needs participants deserve to have a consistent meeting place and that setting aside a room for them should be a top priority. He said the “unstructured” nature of the program had deterred him from enrolling his child in recent years.

Board president Allan Casey echoed Skeel’s promise that all the existing activities will continue.

“We converted people to fund-raisers over time, but we need to get back to focusing on the kids,” Casey said.

Board member Kit Darrow, speaking in her role as a member of the Evergreen Park and Recreation Foundation, said the the foundation had decided to help by focusing future efforts largely on fund-raising for special needs.

Over the years, the district board has consistently been supportive of special needs and even accepting of the fact the program loses money, said Peter Eggers, a board member.

“I don’t think the board has changed its attitude since day one,” he said.