Members of the Root Beer and Reading Club at Whiteaker Middle School raise a can. After school enrichment programs run through SKEF are being cut (Submitted).
For nearly a decade, Michele Husseman ran the Enrichment Academy at Whiteaker Middle School, through the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation (SKEF), which provided kids the opportunity to participate in after-school activities that often involved sports, science, art and entertainment.
But due to significant budget cuts by the foundation, Husseman won't be able to return to her role.
SKEF announced in December that Whiteaker, along with Crossler, Leslie, Judson, Walker and Straub would no longer have Enrichment Academies available at their schools after winter break, meaning that Husseman, along with 22 other part-time staff members that ran the program, would be laid off.
Husseman is still employed at Whiteaker as an instructional assistant, but was disappointed with the decision.
“I was very sad when I found out that the funding was going away. I'm sad I'm losing the income as a second job and I will miss being able to interact with the kids on that level,” Husseman said.
The six Salem-Keizer middle schools losing their Enrichment Academies were serving around 800 students.
Four middle schools in the Salem-Keizer area — Claggett Creek, Houck, Stephens and Parrish — will continue to operate under SKEF because the majority of the costs are covered by a grant from the Oregon Department of Education according to SKEF executive director Kelly Carlisle — a former Salem-Keizer administrator who took over the position in August.
While Carlisle explained that the cuts were a difficult decision, and shared that the SKEF needed to come up with a strategic plan to deal with the financial issues they were facing. He also said that SKEF was losing more than $100,000 per year on the Enrichment Academies.
“Unfortunately, the expenses of the programs far outweighed what money was coming in. At some point, you have to acknowledge that no non-profit can run like that without looking at the financial reality of things,” Carlisle said. “This was a hard decision for us and our board to have to make. But ultimately, when we’re analyzing the financial impacts, it just had to be this way.”
However, Carlisle didn't rule out bringing Enrichment programs back to Whiteaker in the future.
“Will be bring something back to Whiteaker? Absolutely if we can. We're always interested in providing high-quality experiences for kids. That is what we are in this business for. But we will only be able to do sustainable programming moving forward,” Carlisle said.
Although Whiteaker will be losing funding for their after school programming, Husseman acknowledged that some of the school's staff are discussing an alternate after-school enrichment program, that could possibly launch this spring.
Under the new regime, Whiteaker will be relying solely on donations and volunteerism to try and help keep after-school programs available to their kids.
Whiteaker will also be hoping for additional teachers and staff members to help out with this transition.
“We're going to continue, it will just look different,” Husseman said. “There won't be a formal registration or sign up sheet any longer.”
“We want to ask more teachers if they have hobbies, or passions or skills that they would like to share them.”
Even though they won't have funding, Husseman believes that is critical for after-school programs to be a mainstay at Whiteaker.
“It's a huge importance and it provides such a benefit to kids. Being able to bond with teachers in different ways I think is really special. It keeps the kids engaged and gets the kids to school,” Husseman said. “We want kids here. They can't learn if they aren't here.”
In the meantime, Whiteaker will still be offering academic assistance to students Tuesday through Thursday from 2:30-4 p.m. There will also be a free activity bus on these days as well.
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