The before and after school care provider for Riverside Elementary School District 96 won’t be changing after all. After hearing at two meetings from supporters of the existing provider, Berwyn-based Pav YMCA, a closely divided District 96 school board voted 4 to 3 on April 21 to keep Pav as the provider of its before- and after-school care program.

Seven weeks ago, the board seemed ready to hire the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department to manage the program. One board member, Michael O’Brien, even called it “a no brainer” to replace the YMCA program with one run by the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department. 

But that was before Pav YMCA mobilized to fight for its program. At both the March and April regular monthly board meetings, a few parents and Pav staff spoke passionately to the school board, extolling the close relationships between their counselors and kids in the program and imploring the school board not to switch.

It worked. Tuesday night board members Randy Brockway, Rachel Marrello, Art Perry, and Rich Regan voted to keep Pav YMCA as the provider of the before and after school care program while O’Brien, Juliet Boyd and school board President Mary Rose Mangia favored hiring Riverside Parks and Rec.

“I think the comments and the turnout that we had did sway me in the end,” said Brockway, who had been leaning toward choosing Riverside Parks and Rec. “We had two excellent programs coming to us looking to serve, and we had to pick one over the other.”

Brockway said that he had personal experience with the Pav-operated program. 

“I’ve had personal experience with aftercare both at Ames and Blythe, and that was with Pav, and it’s always been good,” Brockway said. “I guess I didn’t see a big reason to change in the end.”

While three parents and four Pav counselors, who were wearing red Pav YMCA T-shirts, spoke in favor of keeping the arrangement the same, only Katie Leander, the chairwoman of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board, spoke during the public comment period in favor of Riverside parks and rec.

After the vote, Leander expressed her disappointment in the decision.

“I wish we had had the opportunity to provide this service for our community members,” Leander said. “We knew it could go either way. We weren’t 100 percent confident, but we were hopeful.”

Brockway said that the lack of vocal support for Riverside Parks and Rec made a difference.

“The support wasn’t there,” Brockway said. “Actively showing up and giving support would have helped their effort.”

Perry, who along with O’Brien and Juliet Boyd, will be leaving the school board next month, said that he made up his mind during the meeting. 

“I actually didn’t know how I was going to vote and I will say I was swayed a bit by some of the community comments,” Perry said. “But ultimately I guess it came down to I wasn’t super confident in the process that we went through. 

“Do I think that the Riverside Rec Department can deliver a quality program? Definitely they can, but does it make sense to make that transition, at least at the board level at this point? I don’t know that the case has been made that we should go ahead and do this.”

Marrello and Regan declined to comment when asked why they voted to keep Pav YMCA

Pav YMCA has operated the before- and after-care program in District 96 since 2009.

“I’m just glad that we’re able to continue to impact the lives of the children of District 96,” said Stephanie Robinson, the school age child care director at the Pav YMCA, which employs 18 counselors to run the program. 

On March 3, Ron Malchiodi, the director of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department, made a presentation to the school board, saying his department could provide a program and activities more focused on learning. He said Riverside Parks and Rec would work closely with District 96 teachers.

Countering that, Robinson said next year the Pav after-school program will add a new program that is being developed by the national Y-USA office, which will add a little more academic focus to the program. 

“The main structure of the program will stay the same, but we are implementing achievement-gap options where we can have children become more involved in school subjects in the aftercare program to help them with the achievement gap that we see happen after school and summer,” Robinson said.

Despite rejection, Riverside Parks & Rec to offer alternative

While the Riverside Elementary School District 96 board chose Pav YMCA in Berwyn to provide before- and after-school care in 2015-16, parents in the district will have a local choice for those services as well.

The Riverside Parks and Recreation Department, whose bid for a before- and after-care was rejected by the school board last week, will offer an after-school anyway.

"We are still moving forward with an after-school program and seeking out other partnerships," said Ron Malchiodi, director of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department. 

Malchiodi said that he is in negotiations to obtain one central site for his after-school care program. He said transportation would be provided to students at all District 96 schools.

The Riverside Parks and Rec program would be along the lines of the proposed program that he presented to the District 96 school board in early March, said Malchiodi. It would emphasize academic assistance with input from District 96 faculty, he said, and dovetail with the district's curriculum.

"I think that District 96 parents at least deserve the choice to have a high-quality program," Malchiodi said. "For us here in the department, we have a higher standard than status quo. We're always interested in improving and innovating, and if that's not an option that the school board is interested in it's still our mission to provide that."

—Bob Skolnik