Beginning roughly one week after the end of school, kids start to gather every morning at one of the borough’s summer camp locations eager and loud, as kids in the summer should be. They play games and have water fights. They come home tired and dirty. There are weekly field trips and pizza days and Friday trips to the pool, but for all that it’s relatively affordable.
So, it should probably come as no surprise that it’s popular, too. Last year all three programs sold out.
“I put it on my calendar every year so I don’t miss it,” said one mom at Wednesday’s Borough Finance Committee meeting.
But that could all soon change.
Tucked away in the details of the preliminary 2020 West Chester Borough budget is what amounts to a major overhaul of the summer camp program. Spread over several line items including summer camp expenditures, salaries and busing the program is quietly being gutted.
If the budget passes as proposed, funding for the program will be cut by roughly 60 percent.
To justify the cuts the Borough Manager Mike Perrone has proposed limiting the camp to borough residents-only, shortening camp hours to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., eliminating camp B.I.G. (kids 11-14) and moving the program in its entirety to the Melton Center.
By comparison, last year the camp, which ran from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., was held at three locations. The younger campers attended Everhart Park or Hoopes Park while the older campers went to the Melton Center. Of the 200 kids that participated in the program, nearly one-quarter came from the borough, the rest from surrounding communities. Non-borough residents, many who work at local offices, pay a premium to have their children attend the camp.
So, why the changes? Why is this popular borough program quietly being cut?
Understanding the Changes to the Borough Camp Program
That remains a bit unclear. Since there has not been a formal presentation of the plan, the details behind what is driving the cuts have come forward in bits and pieces over the course of two public hearings that occurred last week.
The topic was first raised on Tuesday during the public comment period of the Public Works committee meeting by Chantale Fieldhouse a member of the Borough’s Parks & Rec Commission.
“This is a large change and we, the Parks & Rec Commission, believe it requires public inquiry,” Chantale told me on Thursday.
The Parks & Rec Commission had been briefed of the changes by Parks & Rec Director Keith Kurowoski at their October meeting, but despite their request the item was never added to the committee agenda.
The second discussion came the following night at the Finance Committee meeting after several moms were tipped off to the changes through a post to a Facebook group.
“As a working mom these hours don’t work for me.”
-Parent speaking at Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting
When pushed for answers, Mr. Perrone seemed hard pressed to put forward a succinct response. It was alluded to there were HR issues with some of the councilors. There was also mention of a collaborative agreement with the Melton Center, which requires the Borough to look when possible to move more of its program activities to their facility; and he spoke of the need to develop a curriculum. However, each response seemed to elicit more questions rather than answer the central one: why these changes and why now?
“Mr. Perrone wants to make an amazing summer camp. The Parks & Rec Commission and the families that use program want to work with him to achieve that goal.”
-Chantale Fieldhouse, Member Parks & Rec Commission
It’s not to say that the camp doesn’t have its detractors. I have heard stories from parents who felt the councilors were too lax in their oversight, letting older kids overrun the younger campers. However it should be noted, none of the stated reasons referenced parent feedback, either positive or negative.
While, as Mr. Perrone explained on Wednesday, the changes are “fluid,” meaning nothing is official, the proposed budget cuts if passed will significantly limit what the Parks & Rec is able to offer.
“What the Parks & Rec Commission is recommending,” Chantale says, “is that Council keep the status quo for 2020. There is just not enough time to work with Mr. Perrone to make the program great.”
“Mr. Perrone wants to make an amazing summer camp,” she says. “The Parks & Rec Commission and the families that use program want to work with him to achieve that goal.”
Thanks to proactive efforts by several alert and persistent borough residents, the summer camp will finally gets a formal discussion in front of all members of Borough Council on Tuesday night.
If you are using the program and are concerned about the proposed changes you are encouraged to attend Tuesday’s meeting. You can learn more about the meeting and follow the latest developments here.