County Won't Get Out Of REACH

KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor

With a large gathering of students and parents involved in the Cannon County REACH Afterschool Program in attendance, the Cannon County Commission took no action Tuesday night toward ending the county’s ties to the program.

The county provides operational oversight and bookkeeping support for the program, which has been in existence for over a dozen years.

While the program has been self-supporting for most of the years it has been in operation, largely through grants, it became a financial burden on the county two years ago when an anticipated grant was not received.

County taxpayers had to help fund REACH with taxpayer money in the amount of approximately $80,000 at that time.

Thereafter, Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon replaced the program’s director and cut costs, changes which brought about REACH being able to come in $13,867.19 under budget during the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Although the program’s financial situation has improved, county commissioners have still been concerned about how it is being operated and if taxpayers would be asked to continuing funding it in the future.

Some, including Commission Chairman Bob Stoetzel, believed it was against state law for a county to operate an afterschool program. He indicated it was his opinion only a school system could run a program of its nature.

However, at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the commission, it was learned Mike Corley, county attorney, had expressed the opinion that there was nothing in the state’s laws which prohibited a county from operating an afterschool program.

Corley’s opinion satisfied commissioners, who feared a backlash if they decided to terminate REACH.

“I had a child call me today and ask me where we are going to be tomorrow,” Commissioner Kevin George said. “I don’t want to do anything illegal but we can’t throw them (students) on the street with no where to go.”

Commissioner Jim Bush added, “As long as REACH can stand on its own we (commissioners) don’t have a problem.”

The REACH program is currently available at five of the county’s schools. Director Linda Bedwell said she would like to reopen the program at Auburntown and Woodland, but can’t at this time because there are not enough students participating to justify the expense.

Gannon said REACH currently has 27 employees, all of which reside in Cannon County. It is serving at this time 97 elementary school and 47 high school students.

“It is one of the best programs of its kind and it costs the county almost nothing,” Gannon said. “It had one bad year where we had to fund it but it’s paying that money back.”

In addition to deciding to continue the county’s association with REACH, the commissioners approved budget amendments Tuesday allowing it to accept LEAPS and 21st Century grants.

The commission did encourage Bedwell to have the program form a board or directors to provide additional guidance and oversight. It has been operating under an advisory board.