Monroe School parent Nicole Barr.
Nicole Barr, a parent of a third-grader at Monroe Elementary School, is fighting to stop the City of Santa Barbara from cutting Monroe's after-school program. Credit: Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo

An after-school program at Santa Barbara’s Monroe Elementary School, which serves mostly Latino students, is in jeopardy of getting cut to save $63,000.

Jill Zachary, the city’s Parks & Recreation director, has proposed cutting the program, suggesting that students could go to either Washington Elementary School about one mile away or sign up for a different after-school program run by the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The student population at Monroe Elementary, at 431 Flora Vista Drive, is about 72% Latino, according to statistics from the California Department of Education.

Nicole Barr has a third-grade daughter who attends the Recreation After-School Program, known as RAP. The program is also offered at Washington, Adams and Roosevelt elementary schools.

“It is the highest population of low-income students out of the four campuses served, and it seems weird to take from the lowest-income families and give to the higher-income families,” Barr said at a recent Parks & Recreation Commission meeting.

In an interview with Noozhawk, Barr expressed her love for the RAP program and her desire to keep it open for the kids who most need it.

“I love RAP,” Barr said. “Our whole family loves it. We depend on it. I couldn’t imagine life without RAP.”

The city has proposed to cut the fee-based program as part of its proposed $7.9 million 2024 fiscal year budget. It is looking to cut expenditures by $289,824 next fiscal year and $445,428 the following fiscal year.

The after-school program provides homework assistance, recreation activities, sports, crafts and special programs for first- through sixth-graders.

For parent Mayra Valdez, the after-school program is everything.

Monroe School parent Mayra Valdez.
Mayra Valdez, a grandparent/guardian of a third-grader at Monroe Elementary School, said eliminating the after-school program at Monroe would create a hardship for her. Credit: Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo

She recently became the guardian for her granddaughter, who previously was enrolled in Canalino Elementary School in Carpinteria. Valdez actually lives in the Washington Elementary school boundary area, but when she tried to enroll her daughter, she was told there wasn’t an available spot.

So, she found Monroe.

“When I found RAP, I was just so happy,” Valdez said. “I was so blessed.”

Valdez is self-employed and cooks for a living out of her home. She has to prepare food and be available for pickups.

“I really need the after-school program,” Valdez said. “I am working until 5 p.m. I can’t even think of what I am going to do.”

She said her third-grade granddaughter created a bond with the other students. She found her friends and doesn’t want to start over.

When her granddaughter found out that the program might be canceled, she asked her grandmother what they were going to do.

“I don’t know,” Valdez told her.

Jazmin LeBlanc, assistant Parks & Recreation director, told Noozhawk that enrollment at Monroe has declined in recent years and there are waiting lists at the other schools.

“For several years, the RAP program at Monroe has had declining enrollment where other sites run at capacity with waiting lists,” LeBlanc said through email. “This proposal would move the two existing employees at Monroe to other RAP sites, which would allow us to serve 40 children currently on waiting lists.”

Barr, however, said it is misleading for the city to say that there’s been an enrollment decline. The city capped the program at 25, she said. She said technical problems with the website during signups also discouraged parents from signing up.

“We cannot enroll more kids when parents are shut out due to number caps and website issues,” Barr said.

LeBlanc said the issue is financial. The fees for the after-school program pay for only about half the cost of running the program and the general fund subsidizes the rest.

She added that the city has reached out to the school district’s after-school program at Monroe, A-OK!, and that the site coordinator said they would work to increase their staffing to accommodate all 19 of the Monroe students. 

“We are also evaluating the possibility of working with Monroe staff to have kids safely walk over to the RAP site at Washington, as it is less than one mile away,” LeBlanc said.

However, Ed Zuchelli, a spokesman for the school district, was less confident about A-OK! stepping in to help the students at Monroe.

“We would have to reassess the number of children we can serve at the other schools and look for other ways to cover the added costs of an expanded A-OK! program at Monroe,” Zuchelli said. “This could potentially cause the district to turn away families at other schools.”

He urged the City of Santa Barbara to spare the cut at Monroe.

“It is our hope that they reconsider this cut,” Zuchelli said.

He said the district has received numerous requests from city leaders and families to keep schools open beyond the school day to support students and their need for safe spaces.

“Closing a program and taking back much-needed resources only puts us further from our collective goals to provide a safe community,” Zuchelli said. “Our schools serve families 186 days out of the year, yet they need support 365 days out of the year.”

Santa Barbara Unified School District board chair Wendy Sims-Moten said she hopes the program can be saved.

“The decision to eliminate the program is beyond concerning,” Sims-Moten said. “I cannot stress enough the importance of consistent and reliable child care.”

She said asking the students to move to a new program adds stress.

“I understand the stress of balancing budgets and the need to make tough decisions; however, child care should not bear the burden of budget woes,” Sims-Moten said. “We must never forget the mental and economical stress of not having care for our children.”

She said the school district and city should work together to find another way.

“Our children deserve our very best efforts in doing so,” Sims-Moten said.

LeBlanc said that, ultimately, the City Council will make the decision.

“While we are disappointed to have to cut any of our programs, we have tried to focus resources on preserving programs serving the largest number of residents or those most in need of the services provided,” LeBlanc said.

Councilman Mike Jordan, who lives near Monroe, said “elimination of any program that benefits community children would be unfortunate.”

“I don’t know enough about the A-OK program or option, or what a shift to Washington School (just a short distance away) would have, and this budget consideration won’t really be appropriate until we get thru all the department presentations and begin to discuss the budget as a whole in June,” Jordan wrote through email.

Valdez said she wants the City of Santa Barbara to know that these cuts hurt families and that it’s not easy for them to change. She said she receives funding for RAP through a Santa Barbara County Education Office financial aid program. While RAP takes the money, A-OK does not.

She also doesn’t believe it is safe for her granddaughter to walk from Monroe to Washington Elementary School.

“Cutting the program is like cutting my life,” Valdez said. “I don’t have anyone to help me pick her up. I really need the program. I don’t have the money to pay someone to pick her up and bring her to me.”

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at