Popularity of activities program grows, but so do costs
The cost of an after-school activities program for children has climbed to $90,000 every month, with the majority of the cash being spent on wages for “volunteer” staff.
Timesheets for the program show that four staff, officially classed as “volunteers,” were paid more than $15,000 in total for administrative work between Jan. 16 and Feb. 15, 2014.
Including program coordinators and program instructors, nearly $75,000 was spent on stipends for workers in the program in that month.
Individual administrators are working more than 150 hours a month at rates between $22 and $28 per hour – higher than the salary of many teachers in the public education system.
Education officials insist the program is on budget but have acknowledged “areas for improvement” which they say they are working to address.
The Extended After School Program provides constructive activities, ranging from scuba diving and sound engineering to soccer and skateboarding, to around 1,200 schoolchildren.
It is run by the Cayman Outreach Association charity, which has a purchase agreement with the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs, which provides the funding alongside private sector donors.
The program was initially hailed as a success for helping to keep troubled youngsters off the streets and continues to provide safe after-school activities for children across the island’s school system.
But concerns have been raised that a promised literacy program has not been developed, while administrative staff costs continue to rise. One individual who works with the program said costs were getting out of control, saying there is no logical justification for spending $15,000 on administrative staff for a program that already had eight program coordinators, also pulling in significant monthly stipends. That person, who did not want to be identified, also questioned why money was going to office costs, including computers and security cameras, as well as a $10-an-hour intern, instead of on improving the programs for the kids.
The administrative tasks involved in the program include raising funds from private donors, organizing training for volunteers, coordinating transport, and keeping up-to-date records on all the children involved in the program, as well as providing a point of contact for parents.
The administrative office, based at CIFEC, is also responsible for police records checks and payroll for the program’s volunteers, who all receive a stipend for their time. For instructors in the high-school program, the stipend is $15 an hour, at the primary school level, it is $10 an hour.
The purchase agreement between the Cayman Outreach Association and the Department of Education outlines an expected invoice profile of $55,484 per month.
The January 16 to February 15 invoice is for nearly $90,000, with almost $75,000 spent on “stipends” – payments to volunteers – and the rest on transport.
Carl Cargill, an employee of the Cayman Outreach Association, said $90,000 was the accepted monthly budget for the program, with the shortfall coming from private donors.
Mary Rodrigues, chief officer in the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs, said the program had not exceeded its total budget. She said the ministry takes its oversight responsibility seriously and is “committed to regular reviews of the program.”
She said, “Every effort is being made to ensure good value for money is achieved in regards to ensuring that the program aims are met. We can advise that through our own internal monitoring procedures, we have identified particular areas for improvement and have been working to address these issues.”
She said the ministry continues to actively review the program and its expenditures and has the power to make changes if necessary.
“This program is of significant importance to the country, considering that it assists an average of 1,000 students per month, many of whom are some of our most vulnerable young people,” she added.
It is not clear if the job of the Extended After School Program manager, occupied by Mr. Cargill, was ever advertised. Specific work permits do not appear to be required for the “jobs” in the program, which are technically volunteer positions with compensatory stipends.
Ms. Rodrigues, said, “The Cayman Outreach Association has responsibility for the provision of staff to deliver the Extended After School Program.
“However, based on the arrangements entered into under the purchase agreement, the ministry has required that there is a succession plan to ensure that the program is managed by Caymanians, to include program manager and assistant program manager, by no later than September 2014.”
Mr. Cargill declined to comment in detail, referring the Caymanian Compass to the ministry’s response.