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Police Athletic League troubled

June 27, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A Washington County organization has pulled state grant funding from the Hagerstown Area Police Athletic League, stating the youth-based program wasn't complying with after-school requirements set forth in the grant, the county group's director said Thursday.

The move puts City Police Officer Brett McKoy out as the league's paid full-time coordinator and back to patrolling the streets of Hagerstown as of July 1, McKoy said.

He said morning and afternoon "open sessions" for elementary and middle school students offered by the Police Athletic League will be canceled because he won't have the time to administer them.

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The open sessions, in which kids played a variety of sports activities, were to be offered this summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon for elementary-aged students and Mondays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. for middle school students, McKoy said.

McKoy, who became the league's full-time coordinator in September 2002, said he wasn't given a "fair shake" by the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families, which pulled the grant.

The grant, which paid $43,479 for McKoy's salary, was awarded to Community Partnership by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. Community Partnership then awarded the grant to PAL.

PAL was to provide after-school homework sessions for 20 to 30 students as a requirement of the grant, according to a document from the Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

"They were not able to fulfill that," Community Partnership Director Stephanie Stone said.

Stone said the PAL's center at Hagerstown Fairgrounds wasn't open enough hours and was not providing homework sessions for the children.

McKoy, however, said PAL had been providing the homework sessions.

"I know that the homework was going on," McKoy said. "Kids that needed the help, all they had to do was ask. They knew it was in place."

He said the state office that awarded the grant did not share the same concerns as Community Partnership.

In a June 16 letter to Stone about PAL's program and others that receive state dollars, state Crime Control and Prevention Director Alan C. Woods did not mention that PAL's program wasn't complying with state requirements.

Woods listed recommendations that the program could follow to create a student recruitment plan and establish after-school program guidelines. The state also asked for job descriptions of resumes of the program's after school counselors.

"I don't see anywhere in there where it shows the program was failing," McKoy said.

Stone said the state's letter was written before the state had received an updated evaluation of PAL's program, which is why it didn't mention the noncompliance issues.

Woods could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

McKoy said the decision by Community Partnership caught him off guard when he was told of the funding cut by Community Partnership staff members on June 5. He said he went to the meeting under the impression the discussion would revolve around recruiting students into the program, which is what staff told him.

"I did not see this coming," McKoy said.

On June 20, the Community Partnership board voted to seek new bids from organizations interested in taking over the program.

Community Partnership Board member Carolyn Brooks said June 20 was the first time Community Partnership staff members approached the board with their concerns about the PAL.

"We just didn't know it was coming," Brooks said.

She said the issue turned into a passionate discussion among board members and staff, but it wasn't made clear whether PAL was not complying with state requirements.

"I don't know that," Brooks said. "We didn't give Brett (McKoy) a chance to have a lot of input. It just got to a point where a decision had to be made."

Community Partnership board member JoEllen Barnhart described the program's discussion as painful.

She said Community Partnership staff members told the board that it would lose all grant funding if it had allowed PAL to continue without meeting the state requirements.

"It's a wonderful program," Barnhart said. "It was just this noncompliance thing was one component that didn't get done. It was a very painful discussion, and no one wanted to do anything that was going to jeopardize a program for kids."

Stone said the decision to pull funding from PAL was approved by the county, in particular, County Administrator Rodney Shoop. He then told her to tell Community Partnership board members of the decision, she said.

"As my boss, Rod Shoop told me that, that was what I was to talk to the board about," Stone said.

Shoop did not return two phone calls - one made to his office and another to his home - on Thursday.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson said Thursday the commissioners never discussed the matter and that they never instructed Shoop or anyone to pull funding from PAL.

"He can't do that unless we tell him, and we didn't," Munson said.

In the meantime, McKoy said PAL is discussing whether to submit another application to Community Partnership for funding, but said he thinks the organization will make it almost impossible for PAL to get another grant.

"I think they wanted the money to go somewhere else," McKoy said. "I'm very frustrated. I don't understand it."

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