Talk of schools absorbing OCYL fizzles … for now

Talk of schools absorbing OCYL fizzles … for now

Office of Children, Youth and Learning at the Monastery in Cumberland. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

CUMBERLAND – The Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth and Learning will remain as an independent entity, but some officials aren’t ruling out trying to cover it under the umbrella of local schools in the future.

Staff and other stakeholders in OCYL turned out at the May 31 town budget hearing, several growing emotional as they spoke of the importance of keep the organization as the vital educational resource they say it is.

School Committee Chairman Ray Salvatore, who had earlier suggested that OCYL use middle school space for its programming, assured concerned residents that he personally has no interest in merging OCYL with the schools. The community, including teachers, parents and students, love OCYL, he said.

Salvatore said he was instead suggesting that OCYL use school space if acceptable. He said the programs should not be led by schools, nor has he heard any school official discuss ending funding or shutting the organization down. If the schools can help in any way with space, “I’m OK with that,” he said.

Salvatore later said that he and others who have suggested more of a partnership “are very OCYL-friendly.”

Town Council President Peter Bradley told The Breeze that though the council declined to cut funding to OCYL this year, he wanted it to be a “point of discussion” after hearing off and on about the possibility of doing it since 2010.

“Eventually, something’s gotta go forward on it or drop it altogether,” he said. He said he sees value in OCYL as currently constituted, but said he sees significant “duplication of services.”

Bradley said he saw a chance to tackle two issues at once, saying moving the town’s Senior Center back into the OCYL space attached to the rear of the Cumberland Public Library, which it previously occupied prior to OCYL’s formation, might address ongoing Senior Center facility issues.

Bradley said he “definitely” sees savings if OCYL is taken over by the schools, given the repetition he sees between some programs. OCYL was originally touted as costing only $50,000, but the budget has grown to some $200,000, he said. That budget is funded through a mix of grants, program fees and town funding.

OCYL, founded by former Mayor Dan McKee in 2007, offers various year-round educational programs, including chess, computers and music, and charges participants to use it.

Liz Lemire, director of OCYL since 2010, said the organization has been a true community-based success story that everyone can be proud of. OCYL represents an “effective, relative and innovative way to engage students in their learning,” producing great educational outcomes, she said.

Lemire said there are many questions to ask regarding the idea of splitting up OCYL and putting it into the schools, including the costs of doing so if union staffing is required, how it would impact programming, and issues with putting younger students in with middle school-aged children. She said all stakeholders should be invited to any future discussions on making changes to OCYL.

According to Lemire, negative impacts of relocating OCYL and possibly having schools take over and/or decrease the budget could include:

• Limiting equitable access for all residents, whether they are homeschooled or attend public school, private or charter school.

• Eliminating affordable preschool and early childhood programming that the town desperately needs.

• Losing funding sources/grants/sponsorships.

• Diminished quality of programming.

• And a decreased sense of community support for education.

The facility at the Monastery on Diamond Hill Road allows OCYL to piggyback on other programs at the library and Monastery, she said.

School Committee member Steve Hess spoke at the May 31 meeting at the same time he said his son was in chess class at OCYL.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said of OCYL.

Mayor Bill Murray said OCYL continues to be run effectively, helping 550 families and more than 750 children get the education they want and deserve.

“It makes no sense to me to do any changes with that program, and it was clear in the testimony that to move students into schools would be very damaging,” he said.

If OCYL was moved into the schools, “you’d have an entirely different cost structure that you would be facing” in having union employees, said Murray, and he said he believes grant money would be lost.

Bradley noted that the town helps OCYL get its grants, so he doubts whether that would be the case.

Salvatore pointed out that the organization is already running programs at some of the schools.

Ashli Gilles, a Cumberland resident and “proud teacher at OCYL” whose own children have attended, cited the “peerless quality” of the programming there. Cutting funding to it, she said, “would deprive children of the town’s unique “willingness to intellectually support its students.”