Teens looking for guidance about balancing their checkbooks and paying off credit cards might want to look somewhere other than the Reston Community Center’s (RCC) Teen Department.
With more than two months to go before the end of the fiscal year, the Teen Department is out of money and all remaining programs have been canceled, according to RCC officials.
Dennis Kern, the RCC’s executive director, made the announcement public at the community center’s monthly meeting May 5. Kern said he told the RCC’s finance committee about the Teen Department’s budget problems at its meeting on April 21, the day that the department “fully expended their FY 2003 budget.” One week later, Kern notified the board, via e-mail, that the budgetary snafu would leave the Teen Department without funding for the last two months of the fiscal year which ends on June 30.
The Teen Department's FY 2003 budget was $279,000, a figure the department reached more than two months ahead of time. The entire RCC revised operating budget for the current fiscal year is $5.9 million.
“The good news is that the majority of teen programming — trips, dances, classes, events — had already been executed this season so cancellations in that program area were minimal,” Kern said. “The bad news is that the Teen Department has two on-going programs — “Panthers After Hours” and “Support on Suspension” — which were scheduled to run toward the end of the school year in June.”
Shauna Cole, the Teen Department's director, said she was initially disappointed at the decision to cancel the remaining activities. "But I understand why this was the best possible solution," she said. "Both programs are very needed because their focus is making sure the teens are in a safe, nurturing and supervised environment."
Panthers After Hours is an after-school enrichment program offered at Langston Hughes Middle School on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Based at the community center, Support on Suspension, or SOS, is a five-day-a-week program for suspended students.
“I want to stress that this is a very troubling situation and the decision to bring an early seasonal end to these two valuable programs was a very difficult one,” Kern said. “This unscheduled end to FY 2003 teen programming creates a six-week hiatus in the Teen Department.”
<b>KERN IS NOT THE ONLY</b> one upset at the turn of events at the community center. “Obviously, we are disappointed,” said Debbie Jackson, the Hughes principal. “Anytime you end something early or before schedule it’s unfortunate.”
Jackson said the cancellation of the programs, especially the Panthers After Hours, could “pose problems” for parents who rely on the program. About 100 students were enrolled in the program at the time of its termination, the principal said. “It’s too bad because it is such a great program for the kids.”
The dance, cheer and step teams are formed through the after-school programs on Tuesday and Thursday, Jackson said. “I am sure the kids were disappointed that it was canceled,” she said, “because it became a part of them and who they were.”
The affected teens were upset, Cole said. "The cheerleaders and dance team were especially disappointed because they were not able to go to competition," the director said. "In addition to the teens being disappointed, I believe the families were equally upset, because many of them depended on both programs."
<b>IT WAS NOT AN EASY </b>decision for Kern, but he had few options, he said. He was unable to secure funds from other RCC budgets because all of the available program budgets were “fully obligated,” he said. “There were no excess funds that I could transfer into the teen program.”
While there is money in the managed reserve, Fairfax County does not allow access to those funds without approval from the Board of Supervisors, Kern said. The board, however, must approve such a transfer during the third quarter review. “Such money was not requested at third quarter,” the executive director’s report said, “as my third quarter fiscal review with the teen program director indicated adequate funding existed to complete all FY 2003 programs.”
The after-school program provides children of working parents a safe alternative to the traditional “latch-key” lifestyle. “Panthers offers recreational and academic support in a social setting for the students,” Jackson said. “All the research today shows that successful students and students at risk benefit greatly from having a structured after-school environment. The key is having the adults assigned to individual students so that those students know they have an advocate in the building — someone they can relate to and talk with — at all times.”
Kern said the labor- and personnel-intensive nature of the programs made it difficult to find money to support the teen center. Ultimately, the executive director was able to massage the administration budget long enough to see the two programs into the first week of May. The last Panthers After Hours was held May 1, while the final SOS of the year was held Friday, May 9.
“With the teen budget fully expended in mid-April, I am funding the extension of these two programs into May on funds that I could identify in the admin. budget,” Kern told the board. “The May 1 and May 9 end dates reflect the maximum extent of such exigency funding.”
Kern estimated that he used a few thousand dollars, "greater than two, but less than 10," he said, to cover the costs of extending the two programs into the month of May.
<b>IN AN INTERVIEW </b>Friday, Kern said it was important to extend the programs as long as possible to allow parents time to find other options. “We didn’t want to just quit cold turkey,” he said.
This is a one-time problem, Kern insisted.
“I have been reassured that we will be ready to go in the fall — that the money will be there,” Jackson said.
Before the budget shortfall was revealed, Kern said he had some concerns earlier in the year about the teen budget and he met with Cole about those concerns. “There were a few high-cost elements in there that caused me some concern,” Kern said Friday. The executive director refused to speculate on the cause of the mismanagement though he added that he is undergoing an intense study into the situation. “Right now, it would be premature to speculate,” he said.
"The executive director and I will start working on a plan at the end of the week to ensure that this will not occur in the future," Cole said.
In his report to the board, Kern said he would work closely with Cole to “examine and essentially redesign the RCC teen program to achieve a better program delivery and program cost balance as well as to reinforce Fairfax County purchasing regulations and budget execution guidelines.”
While taking full responsibility for the decision to end programming, Kern refused to lay blame for the mishap. “It’s too early,” he said.
RCC chair Ruth Overton said she was confident that similar budget shortfalls would not occur in the future. "It was just some bad accounting features, that's all," she said. "It was a surprise to all concerned."
Without elaborating, Overton admitted that not all procedures were followed. "Yes, there was a lapse or two."
In his May 5 report to the board, Kern stressed that the RCC “remains committed” to providing quality programming for Reston teen-agers. “Teens are an extremely important part of our patronage and our community — both for who they are and for who they will become,” Kern told the board. “We owe them a top-quality, balanced, sustainable program and I intend for this agency to meet and exceed that rightful expectation in FY 2004.”