OC’s After-School Program Location Change To West OC Discussed

OCEAN CITY — A seemingly innocuous discussion about an after-school program briefly crossed over to the old tax differential debate last week before coming back around to the reason.

Budget work sessions opened last week in Ocean City and one of the first departments to present its fiscal year 2020 spending plan was Recreation and Parks. The presentation included funding for a wide variety of programs, camps, leagues and other offerings by the department including an after-school recreation and activities program provided by the town of Ocean City.

For years, the Recreation and Parks Department hosted an after-school program for local students at Northside Park in north Ocean City. This year, however, the decision was made to move the program in Ocean City Elementary School (OCES) in West Ocean City, largely for logistic reasons.

For one, the students who participated are largely OCES students who were transported by bus to Northside Park for the after-school program. In most cases, the participating students were Ocean City residents and their parents or guardians would pick them up at Northside Park at the end of the day.

During budget deliberations last Wednesday, April 3, Mayor Rick Meehan asked Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito how the change was working out. Petito said the program was thriving because more time was being spent on the various activities than on the bus being transferred to Northside Park. She also pointed out other OCES students were enjoying the after-school program.

Councilman Dennis Dare asked if hosting the program at OCES was presenting challenges for parents of kids from Ocean City’s north-end neighborhoods where most year-round residents live. Councilman Mark Paddack related his own experience with the after-school program.

“Councilman Dare brings up an important point,” he said. “As a parent, my kids took place in the after-school program at Northside Park. When it moved to OCES, my kids were basically eliminated from the program because Northside Park was less than a mile from our home.”

From there, the discussion veered in the direction of the old tax differential issue between the town and county over the cost of duplicated services.

“The town is subsidizing what should be a county program,” Paddack said. “It’s now more convenient for West Ocean City families, but they are county taxpayers. I think this has alienated some of the kids in Ocean City. I just don’t know why we’re offering an Ocean City program out there to county taxpayers at our cost.”

However, Petito quickly brought the discussion back to what she deemed was most important to all involved.

“I guess we’re soft-hearted, gentle people who reach out and support the kids and we want to embrace them and make sure they’re safe,” she said. “We want to make sure they have great things to do and can participate.”

For his part, Meehan said he regretted broaching the subject of the after-school program.

“I want to apologize for even bringing this up,” he said. “I never want to see kids caught up in this ongoing political battle. It’s a great program and there are a lot of benefits and it really doesn’t cost us anything. In fact, I think we just heard it makes a profit.”

Meehan said his personal preference is OCES merely for convenience.

“It’s a lot easier for me to pick up my grandson at OCES than it is at Northside Park and I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of parents in the area,” he said.

The mayor also suggested listening to the students themselves on the issue.

“If you ask the kids, they’re probably going to tell you OCES,” he said. “You know why? That’s where their friends are. Sometimes the voice of kids is more impactful then some of the things we do and say up here.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.