June 04, 2014NEW DURHAM — A group of parents gathered at the June 2 New Durham Board of Selectmen's meeting as a response to the sudden closing of the Creative Kids Club (CCK), which has been run by the town's parks and recreation department.
Parents depend on CCK to provide summer programs and care to elementary age students during the summer months. Some students use the program part-time while others depend on it for full-time care allowing parents to continue their work schedules.
The parent group, led by resident Lee Newman, claimed the recreation department said they sent an e-mail questioning who would be using the program this year, but most parents stated they did not receive the e-mail with a strict deadline by which to reply.
Dot Veisel, member of the parks and recreation department, stated she was the one who sent the e-mail and that the program was shut down for a variety of reasons including lack of parental response.
Additionally, tiles are being pulled up at the school over the summer creating a hazmat concern as there is asbestos in the tiles and Veisel expressed concern regarding the students using the school in these conditions and the town's liability over exposing the students to poor air quality.
Newman and other parents argued the summer school program was still going on as planned this summer and that they were told it was safe for students, who would just be kept in classrooms away from the section where work was occurring.
Veisel went on to state she was exploring other locations to hold the CCK program including community room at the fire department and the library, but the final straw was when she was told by the state this would mean the program would need to reapply for licensing. It was at this point the recreation department felt it wasin for too many obstacles and voted to cut the program.
Unfortunately, this left many parents in a precarious position. Other programs are further away, cost more money and are mostly filled to capacity already.
Newman quickly got with a few others parents and began working toward a solution. They created their own non-profit organization called Being Cool After School and have a commitment from the staff of CCK to work for them.
Being Cool After School has begun the licensing process and has been assured it will be expedited at the state level since this is a time sensitive situation.
However, the group has found a hitch at the school district level and that is the rental policy of school buildings.
According to Newman he was told by the Governor Wentworth Regional School District Superintendent that since there are paid employees involved in the non-profit program, the school would have to rent the space to the organization at a cost of $240 per day unless they could provide a statement from a town entity on letterhead as to the need for this service in the community.
The parents were before the board of selectmen to request they provide the statement needed to waive the rental fees.
Selectman David Bickford was on board with the parents and seemed to understand their plight.
However, Chairman David Swenson and Selectwoman Teresa Jarvis had many reservations. They were concerned this statement would make the board the "sponsors" of the program and therefore open the town to liability, especially in the wake of the hazardous materials being removed from the building this year.
Swenson also questioned the group's organization to date and the problems they might encounter suggesting they come up with a business plan.
Newman took offense at Swenson's comments both regarding the need for a business plan and concern for safety of their children.
Newman reiterated he was not asking for money, insurance or staff from the town, only a letter stating there was indeed a need.
He told Swenson the group had the business aspect under control.
As for the safety of the children, Newman responded by saying, "We are all parents here. We are not stupid. We are not going to put our kids in harm's way…it is insulting that you are acting like you care more for our kids than we do."
The parents and the board went back and forth arguing conditions to absolve the town of liability and who should meet these requirements, but parent Angela Chapman spoke calm into the situation with a suggestion that the selectman only write there is a need and they choose not to sponsor the program, then have it quickly (24 hours was the goal agreed upon) approved by town counsel so the group could move forward.
There was a great sense of urgency among the parents to get things moving forward since school is out in three weeks and approximately 17 families are counting on this plan to get a new program going for them.
In readdressing the issue of possible hazmat concerns, parent Carrie Uyeno expressed a desire to work with Veisel and look at the alternative sites she proposed, so if there is a problem it could be dealt with as a group working together for the benefit of the children.
In the end a motion was made and unanimously passed by the board to create a letter expressing the need on town letterhead and have the chairman sign it on behalf of the board, contingent on approval of town counsel.
A full report from the selectmen's meeting will be in next week's edition.
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