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After-school programs halted, grants stay

August 19, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Privately funded after-school programs in five Franklin County school districts have been discontinued, but each of the districts received a substantial check from the Lenfest Foundation to use as they wish, according to school officials.

Officials from three districts said the programs were discontinued primarily because of concerns about sustaining them after the initial five years of funding expired.

The money given to the districts came in the form of unrestricted grants in place of funds that would have been spent on the programs, according to school officials. They were funded by the Lenfest Foundation, but run by FOUNDATIONS Inc., a New Jersey-based firm that runs extended-day enrichment programs in schools.

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Last week, the Chambersburg School Board decided to put the $400,000 it received from the Lenfest Foundation into the Chambersburg Area School District Foundation, according to Superintendent Edwin Sponseller.

The Lenfest Foundation was created by H.F. "Gerry" and Marguerite Lenfest of Philadelphia after they sold Suburban Cable to Comcast. Gerry Lenfest graduated from Mercersburg Academy prep school in Mercersburg, Pa., and Marguerite Lenfest graduated from Wilson College in Chambersburg.

Fannett-Metal School District was the first to have its after-school program put in place two years ago, Sponseller said. Chambersburg and the Tuscarora School District had programs in place during the 2002-2003 school year, he said.

Greencastle-Antrim and the Waynesboro Area School District were to have programs up and running this school year, said C. Gregory Hoover, Greencastle's director of elementary education.

The smaller Greencastle-Antrim District received $300,000 from the Lenfest Foundation. The district decided to put the money into its own foundation to fund projects outside of the general fund budget.

"We're hoping to endow certain things, perhaps Tayamentasachta," the environmental education center the district owns, he said.

Hoover said his district, along with Fannett-Metal, is hiring a grant writer who had been provided by FOUNDATIONS Inc.

"Sustainability had been a concern," said Virginia Lays, who will begin work for the two districts Sept. 1. Among the most needy of students, recruitment was a problem and finding money to keep the programs running down the road was a concern, she said.

Instructors in the three-hour after school program worked with students on reading and math skills, homework and enrichment through exposing them to the arts and sciences, Lays said.

"We never got the number we were hoping for," said Chambersburg Assistant Superintendent Eric Michael. He said he thought there would be a waiting list, but "We had to go out and hold several meetings to get kids."

In its single year, Michael said the program served about 35 students.

Lynn Lerew, the Chambersburg district's director of human resources and administrator of its foundation, said foundation money is used to fund staff projects that assist students, or for college scholarships.

Lerew said with the Lenfest donation, the foundation has more than $1 million in hand.

Tuscarora School District Superintendent Thomas Stapleford said his district also received $300,000. It has programs in place at two of its elementary schools, he said.

Tuscarora, however, will use its windfall differently.

Stapleford said his district has earmarked the money for the purchase of instructional materials and for technology upgrades.

Even without the after-school programs, the Lenfests have made huge financial contributions to Franklin County education, Lays said. In the past few years the Lenfests have donated $35 million to Mercersburg Academy and $10 million to Wilson College.

The couple also has college scholarship programs and college preparatory school programs that are continuing in the county, Lays said.

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