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Village Vision News

Summer parks program survives

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nearly everyone agrees that kids don’t come out to the parks the way they used to a generation ago. For one, the world is not as safe as it once was. Plus, kids these days have many more forms of entertainment, some electronic, that grab their attention and keep them indoors.

There is also agreement that the problem is not related to personnel. Several trustees and Mayor Marilyn Johnson have been complimentary of the job that’s been done by Mike Poe, director of the summer parks program for the Village of Forsyth, and his staff.

How to adapt or simply end the summer parks programs has been the subject of discussion amongst trustees at the two most recent board meetings.

The mayor has said that the cost per child, especially when fewer kids are participating, gives her concern. She felt the village might be paying too much with a budget last summer of $3,500, in addition to the staff wages that are above the budgeted amount.

While there was no vote, after much discussion, trustees agreed to keep the park programs going another year.

Poe came with suggestions that he hoped would help attract more people, not just kids, this summer.

Poe said going to three days — the schedule for park activities has been four mornings a week for three hours each day — and one evening might be a possibility. The evenings might be more suitable for grabbing the attention of senior citizens, if it were the appropriate event, he said. He thought a health fair, a concert or a movie could be the right fit.

Poe noted that the size of the park allows for options like exploring the idea of having evening events on the backside of the park, away from the ball diamonds.

The mayor liked the idea of having something each month that would bring out entire families. “The park singers (concert in the park in 2013) did that last year,” Johnson said. “That brought out families and seniors.”

Forsyth Public Library Director Rachel Miller urged the board to let Poe know the fate of the program as soon as possible, citing her experience with families planning summer activities as early as April.

“A decision needs to be made,” Miller told trustees. “Delaying hurts Mike’s ability to make it succeed.”

One caveat issued by Village Administrator David Strohl was what method should be used to determine if the changes have been a success.

“How do we measure success?” Strohl asked the board. “If not numbers, then how do we know if this is a success when we look at this next year?”

Not everyone was in agreement that simply counting heads would be an indicator of success. Sometimes success in such things can be more nuanced, suggested Trustee Bob Gruenewald, adding that “you never know what will make a light bulb go off” for a child.

One thought was to have kids pre-register for programs, an idea that Poe did not think would work across the board. He said some events simply weren’t conducive to pre-registering, and good events might be lost when pre-registration numbers came in low.

Poe, who teaches high school chemistry and also teaches astronomy at Rock Springs, said he would have no problem tracking numbers, but he was uncertain if that was what was being asked of him.

“I need some guidance on how to measure success,” Poe said. “I’m a data nut; it’s my life, but pre-registering for 50 to 60 events will be a nightmare. You will end up canceling major events.”

Gruenewald said he would like to see the parks and library continue to work together to expose kids to different opportunities.

Miller said there is “mutual selling” between the two programs. Both she and Poe agreed that the tradition of the park and library complementing rather than competing against one another was the best way forward.

In the end, the 2014 budget remains the same, and the adoption of any new programs was left to Poe and village staff to determine.

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