During the February 6th Visalia City Council Work Session the council discussed programs to be funded with Measure N money earmarked for the city’s youth.
The half cent sales tax approved by voters will go into effect April 1st. It is projected that the sales tax will bring in over 10 million dollars a year and will mostly be used for public safety. Youth Programs were allocated 2% of the revenue generated by Measure N which represents $216,000 a year.
The budget proposed to the city council was $75,000 for programs administered by the Multi-Agency Gang Intervention Task Force (MAGITF) and $100,000 for a Park and Recreation program called The Club House. $41,000 would be left over to accrue for the youth programs or to be put into the Uncertainty Fund.
Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar gave the presentation asking for funds for the MAGITF. Salazar and Tulare County Superintendent Todd Oto co-chair the MAGITF. According to Salazar’s memo to the council, “The funds would be designated to support identified activities and goals of programs/projects that work to improve the lives of at-risk Visalia youth or gang intervention/prevention efforts in the City of Visalia and are consistent with the mission of the Multi-Agency Gang Intervention Task Force.”
Mayor Warren Gubler asked Salazar how he envisioned the funds would be distributed. Salazar stated that though the MAGITF has been in existence since 2006 they never had the money to fund youth programs. With the potential of funding, the An Executive Board made up of the Visalia Police Department, Visalia Parks & Recreation Department, and the Visalia Unified School District can now help at-risk youths.
The Board would “work with task force members to identify existing gaps in services for at-risk youth as well as opportunities to improve proven and established programs/projects that provide gang intervention and prevention efforts in the City of Visalia through non-profit organizations or city-sponsored outreach activities.” Such programs being considered are job training, Summer Night Lights, and youth leadership and character development programs.
The Computer Clubhouse Network
Park and Recreation Director Jeannie Greenwood gave a presentation on a national scholastic program geared toward technology called the Computer Clubhouse Network. Referred to as The Club House, the Parks and Recreation Department had researched the program but until Measure N it was financially out of reach. Greenwoods plan is to install The Club House at the Manual Hernandez Community Center located in Visalia’s Recreation Park.
Currently the Manual Hernandez Center has 50 to 60 kids participate in a drop-in after school program for homework or to play video games. The Club House would be a much more structured education “providing opportunities for young people from underserved communities to explore their own interests and become confident learners through the use of technology.”
The program’s focus is STEM which stands for Science, Technology, Energy and Math which is considered the education of the future and necessary for the future employment of our youth. Greenwood said that Visalia charter schools already have a STEM curriculum because it works better with smaller classrooms. Non-charter public schools tend to have larger classrooms.
The types of projects offered by The Club House are, computer generated art, music & animations, students designing their own science simulations, writing and illustrating interactive poetry & stories, building kinetic sculptures and robotic constructions and designing their own web page.
Council member Steve Nelsen said that he thought it was an excellent program and that some students in Visalia do not have that kind of access to technology.
Councilmember Bob Link agreed that STEM was the wave of the future but lamented about how all funds are geared towards the North side of town while there is great need in the south side of town also. He also inquired into what type of security the center would employ to safeguard all the new equipment.
Council member Phil Cox was not completely sold on the program because he said that it was already tried in Tulare County and he heard that it did not work. . He said that a local Boys and Girls Club used the Club House with mixed results and didn’t believe they continued with the program. Cox also said that the initial outlay of equipment was clear but was wondering about the cost of staffing.
Galen Quenzer, director of the Tulare County Boys and Girls Club, does not remember any of the organization’s branches using The Club House.
Cox also voiced his concern with fronting any money until the revenues started coming into the city which would be in July. Greenwood felt confident that the Parks and Recreation Service could get the program up and running by the beginning of school even if they did not receive the money until the end of summer.
Gubler added that he would like assurances that the program would be used. He mentioned that on one tour of the Whitendale Center that very few kids were using the computers.
The City Council voted 5-0 to pursue the youth programs and to present a more detailed budget of each new program at the next city council meeting.