A summer camp run by the Augusta Boys and Girls Club offered four weeks of programming to city students this summer — less than the seven weeks it originally planned.

In Waterville, a summer program run by Greater Waterville Communities for Children and Youth cut out horseback riding, jazz and theater offerings.

As the school year starts, the scaling back will continue as community centers shift from their summer offerings to after-school programs targeting low-income students struggling in school.

The Augusta and Waterville summer and after-school programs are among 33 statewide that had to cut 34 percent of their 2010-11 budgets, after learning in April that the state Department of Education had promised them $2.5 million more in federal grant money than was available.

Now, those who coordinate the programs — which serve about 10,000 children during the summer and throughout the school year at 107 sites — fear the spring round of reductions could have simply been practice for future cuts.

A U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee late last month approved a new round of funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, the funding source for the Maine summer and after-school programs.

But the subcommittee voted in a new focus for the grants, authorizing expenditures for extended school days and longer academic years.

As well, the Obama administration has proposed restructuring 21st Century Community Learning Center funding over the long term, opening up the grants to competition among states, school districts and nonprofit organizations, rather than doling the money strictly to states through a formula.

“We’ve been funded for this fiscal year,” said Laura Brock, who coordinates the Waterville after-school and summer programs. “But beyond that, we just don’t know.”

Maine’s 33 after-school programs are operating on five-year grants through the 21st Century program. The contracts for 17 of them are set to expire after the 2012-13 school year; the other 16 run through 2013-14.

But if the program focus changes, “they could very simply give a one-year deadline” and cut off funding, said Lauren Sterling, the state coordinator for the 21st Century after-school programs.

Several steps in the budget process remain before the 21st Century Community Learning Center can completely change focus.

It’s unclear where Maine’s two U.S. senators, both Republicans, stand on the proposed change in focus.

A spokesman for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office said in a statement that Snowe is “still reviewing and evaluating the recently proposed changes.”

“After-school programs are vital for students and families across Maine,” the statement said.

Sen. Susan Collins’ office released a statement praising increased funding for the 21st Century program.

“providing access to high-quality and affordable after-school programs, we decrease the risk of children engaging in negative behaviors,” the statement said. Collins, however, did not comment on how she felt about a changed focus for the program.

Meanwhile, Maine’s 33 after-school programs are finalizing cuts and program offerings for the approaching start of the school year.

Augusta’s after-school program, Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Kathi Wall said, will scale back transportation for student participants and cut stipends for staff members who work in the after-school program. The program offers tutoring, health and wellness activities, and job skills training.

“That’s what we had to do in order to reduce costs,” Wall said.

The 34 percent budget cut from the overallocation of funds will leave Augusta’s after-school program with $199,000 for the 2010-11 school year, down from the $300,000 it was originally promised. Waterville’s after-school program will be left with $175,000 after cutting out $89,000.

Augusta’s program received the full $300,000 allotment during the 2009-10 year; Waterville’s received $264,000.

The cuts have left both programs in a constant search for alternative funds, the directors said.

“We’re constantly reviewing any new grants and trying to find ways to sustain our programs in the event that 21st Century money is no longer available,” Brock said.

That exercise might leave the programs in good shape regardless of what happens with future federal funds, the state’s Sterling said.

“I don’t think this reduction issue that happened is a benefit to anybody,” she said.

But “because of what they had to do to prepare for a reduced budget, they have come up with some of the most innovative collaborations to sustain huge portions of their programs. That will put them in really good stead for whatever may come.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.