A popular after-school program for Tacoma middle-schoolers that faced the budget ax at year’s end won an 11th-hour reprieve Tuesday.
At its last meeting of the year, Tacoma’s City Council reached into its own pocket and found $100,000 to help fund the jeopardized SPARX program, saving it at least through the rest of this school year.
Also Tuesday, the council dipped into its contingency fund to help fund two other programs that, like SPARX, recently failed to win funding through the city’s new competitive human services grant process.
Council members allocated $25,000 each in 2013 for the DASH Center for the Arts and the Korean Women’s Association.
The allocations will help DASH operate an art program for at-risk Hilltop and East Side youth and allow the KWA to provide case-management services.
DASH originally had applied for $122,800 and KWA for $40,000. After neither received the request, supporters for both agencies appealed to the council for funding.
Councilwoman Victoria Woodards, who sponsored the council’s resolution to fund the programs, noted all three allocations would be one-time “transitional” expenditures to help each program next year only.
In the case of SPARX, the city expects Metro Parks Tacoma and Tacoma Public Schools to collectively match the city’s contribution, helping to see the program through the school year, she added.
“We’re asking Metro Parks and the school district to join us, so that the kids will have a transitional plan,” Woodards said.
The council’s late funding commitments came after it approved $5.8 million of grants from its general fund to 54 projects for the next two years.
The city had received about 110 requests for more than $12 million — double the funding the city had available. The city’s Human Services Commission evaluated each application based on a set of performance- and needs-based criteria, and recommended awarding grants mainly to programs that scored highest.
On Tuesday, the council also moved $250,000 from the general fund into a Human Services Stabilization Fund for emergencies that might crop up during the next two years, and an additional $100,000 to be used on gang intervention and prevention programs.
Launched by the city in 2001, SPARX offers a variety of after-school recreational activities, snacks and tutoring in all nine Tacoma public middle schools. The program had served 1,759 students through October of this school year, Woodards said.
Metro Parks, which administers SPARX, has largely relied on city funding to operate it. As the city’s human services grants program moved mostly to a competitive process this year, the park district submitted a $770,000 grant request to help operate SPARX for the next two years.
Late last month, parks officials learned the Human Services Commission didn’t recommend any funding for the program. Facing an $185,000 operational shortfall through the school year, Metro Parks was prepared to close the SPARX program at year’s end.
The council’s $100,000 contribution will help keep the program alive through June 30. Metro Parks also will chip in up to $50,000, and the school district is expected to pick up the remaining operational costs, officials said.
Parks officials are set to appoint a committee early next year to evaluate SPARX and determine whether it should be ended, continued as is, revamped or replaced with a new program in the next school year, Woodards said.
“I know our desire is to see the support for middle school after-school services go beyond the end of this school year,” Metro Parks spokeswoman Nancy Johnson said earlier Tuesday. “And I think the city and the school district share that commitment.”