Is Parks and Recreation Losing Money? First in a Series

maxresdefaultWalking into the small alcove office of the Culver City Parks and Recreation Department, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a friend, another woman with children in a similar age range. What Tanya Allan said did not surprise me at all. “I sure miss that brochure. When you could lay it all out on the table and look at it, it just seemed a lot easier. And I hate that website, it’s not at all customer friendly.”

The last ‘Culver City Living’ brochure was printed for the summer of 2010, and many feel that the PRCS programs have never recovered.

Long time karate instructor John Heyl weighed in, saying “We do the Facebook thing. We had a webpage for years. Our enrollment has been in steady decline since the change over from the print format.”

While there are endless example of the shift from print to internet, there is still controversy over almost every aspect. There are plenty of software programs that can tell you who is clicking in, what they can’t tell you is who is missing out. It is clear is that many classes have lost students, and that means that these programs are losing money.

Susy Porter, teacher of the popular children’s class “Sing, Dance & Play” has put the issue to both the Parks and Recreation Department and the City Council repeatedly. “I have been teaching with Parks & Rec since 2003. My enrollment has dropped drastically since the discontinuation of the brochure. When the brochure was sent to every Culver City resident, I filled six classes a week, at a rate of 10 to 16 kids per class. Without the brochure, I’m just doing one class; that’s heartbreaking! How many kids are missing this chance just because they don’t know about it? How can you sign your children up for something when you don’t know it exists? ”

The change from paper to screens is taking place in every aspect of 01our culture, but old habits die slowly, and access is another issue that touches on both culture and class. How to connect?

Heyl noted that it’s that first connection that makes the difference.  “I think a good portion of our enrollment comes from word of mouth. Our current [karate] beginning class is a good example — a mom was making the rounds of the local programs, liked what we provide and enrolled her son and, within two weeks, several of his friends were coming as well. The problem is reaching the initial seed.”

Informal analysis seemed to show that more children’s classes were losing out than senior classes, possibly owing to the shape of the demographic more than anything else. An adult might take the same class every year for ten years or more; children will ‘age out’ of most programs in a far shorter time frame. When growing kids are not replaced with younger ones coming into the program, there’s a lot of open space.

Heyl accepts the current enrollment strategy, but mourns the loss. “The printed ‘Culver City Living’ seemed to be a friendlier, more easily used vehicle to inform Culver City residents of what PRCS had available — for us it did a better job of planting the seed that lead to more students than the online version.”

Porter remains frustrated. “How can you stay at a job that just continues to dwindle? How small can these classes get and even stay on the slate? And the big deal, for me, because I really love what I do, is how many kids in this community are missing out on something that we know is as basic and beneficial as music? Maybe they don’t have a computer at home, maybe they don’t have an English speaking parent, maybe just putting a piece of paper in the mailbox connects them to the whole world of Parks and Rec?”

Tanya Allen, mother of three, who works with vast amounts of technology and data in her career in health management, said “I just come down to the office and read the thing on the wall. I look online, but it’s too fragmented. It’s the only way I can search, schedule and sign them all up at the same time.”

The next piece in the series will present the perspective from inside the administration. 

-Judith Martin-Straw

The Actors' Gang

1 Comment

  1. Dear Judith, thank you for this article and for shedding light on this important issue. I have been working for years to get more support for all the Parks & Rec classes. I even gave the council members all the information (from a neighboring city’s Parks & Rec office) about purchasing a large sign for the lawn area in front of Veteran’s Park, to be displayed in the weeks preceding every registration period. They have had this information for over a year, and still we have no sign to help advertise our schedule of classes. Here is a portion of a letter I sent to the council members back in Sept of 2014: “When I think about what a city is, I think about the community and the families raising children, living, learning and growing in relationships. The community classes through Parks & Rec include about forty teachers, each passionate, talented, dedicated and sincere in their desire to share their expertise with the children of Culver City. I began teaching in Culver City when we moved here in 2003. Over the years, I have had mothers return to my class with all their babies. I have taught families with four and five kids. The community and fellowship that is created as we all sing together is sacred to me. I used to fill six classes a week, with 10 to 16 kids in each class. The mailer , and word of mouth kept my enrollment healthy and successful for all the years I taught here….until the year the city discontinued the Brochure. At that time, my enrollment was cut in half, and now I am barely filling one class a week. I have parents wanting to come to class on a different day, and I cannot offer them a choice of days because not enough people sign up to fill a class on that day. This saddens me and reveals that the residents of Culver City don’t know that I am there. This is exceedingly frustrating for me. I had one mom come to my class and tell me: “I live across the street and I never knew you were here!” She and I were both frustrated, as her son was four and missed out on years of enrichment and fun. Parents have formed lasting friendships in my classes. One Culver City business, a fitness for moms & babies class, was started by moms who met in my class. Ripples of positivity have been happening for years as a result of the community of people that gather in my class, as well as all the Parks & Rec classes. Surely you can see the worth and value of supporting and sustaining our classes.
    I am a mom and a teacher, an artist and a performer. If our classes succeed, everybody wins. The residents enjoy high quality classes at an affordable price. The community grows in healthy relationships, with new and renewed friendships happening in the classes. The teachers thrive and get to do what they love to do. The children benefit from great instruction, experiences, and support of a loving community. Our Parks & Recreation classes support families that might not be able to afford private instruction. The arts, music, and all the classes that we offer are affordable and give everyone the opportunity to participate in high quality programs.
    I feel very strongly on this, and I am not alone. I have worked with hundreds of Culver City families over the past eleven years. We all want “Sing, Dance & Play” to continue. It matters. It is important. Nurturing the youngest children of our community has been one of the richest joys of my life and I deeply desire to keep doing it in Culver City. Will the city support it’s classes? We cannot continue without the advertising support of the City.”

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