Marshall Community Center faces big challenge

Bill Milligan: Marshall Community Center council chairman speaks at a meeting last week. Photo by Pete StidmanBill Milligan: Marshall Community Center council chairman speaks at a meeting last week. Photo by Pete StidmanOf the three community centers set to lose city funding for some of their preschool or after school teachers come January, the Marshall may have the biggest challenges before it.

At the Murphy Community Center in Neponset, more than 200 parents showed up last week to a meeting with the director of the city’s community centers, demanding that not only the preschool program, but its two teachers be preserved. They got assurances from the mayor and his senior staff that this would be the case—though no solid plan has been determined as of yet.

At the Perkins, a handful of parents showed up to hear that an outside non-profit would be taking over their program.

But at the Marshall, around three-dozen parents were told that the council overseeing their cluster would create an after-school program of some kind, without any further specifics. The after-school serves 26 children of various ages. Funding for the program’s two teachers would be cut, leaving it up to the Dorchester cluster council, officially known as the John P. Holland Community Council, to somehow keep the program going.

The range of responses that parents received at each center highlight differences between the centers themselves. Each of the three has a different community council overseeing it, and each group of parents a different level of expectations.

“Certainly I want everyone to feel at ease with the situation,” said Marshall council chair Bill Milligan. “It may look different, but I want to assure you that it will be the same good service. We will put a program here. I speak with certitude in that.”

Milligan said the salaries for the new teacher’s positions would be “competitive to market rate” but admitted the council would not be able to duplicate the benefits the city can provide. He said he assumed, in a conversation after the meeting, that the after-school’s current employees would be applying for positions elsewhere in the city.

“I feel safe with the staff here,” said one parent during the meeting. “I’m comfortable with them. How do we know with the council taking over that we will be happy with the staff there?”

The council already runs an after school program at the Holland Community Center, and oversees employees there and at the Marshall as well as partnerships with other organizations who use space at the Cleveland Center in Fields Corner. In 2007, IRS filings show, the council ran a $32,000 operating deficit, but still had assets of over $123,000.

“You have to understand general accounting principles to understand the $32,000,” said Milligan when asked about the council’s financial health. “If you look at that, no programs have decreased, neither have we lost programs… You cannot take one year and say if you continue to operate that way you are lost.”

Milligan admitted that finding funding for the program would likely be a challenge, but reiterated that Griffin’s staff at BCYF would be helping the council with the task.

“They will work with us to bring about a smooth transition,” he said. He also encouraged those with time on their hands to join the council and help. There are currently nine members of the Holland Council out of a possible 14.