Friday, Jul 01, 2016
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Education

Swanton board rejects $511,000 grant to cut student use of alcohol

The Swanton Board of Education voted unanimously yesterday to reject a $511,000 U.S. Department of Education grant that would have provided funding for anti-alcohol programs among middle and high school students.

Only board member Mona Dyke spoke before the vote, saying, "We certainly are not diminishing in any way the impact that alcohol and other drugs can have on people's lives."

But in a statement Superintendent of Schools Paulette Baz issued, the board members collectively criticized the grant for excessive administrative costs, including salaries, equipment, and travel. The statement also referred to board unhappiness with its role administering an unrelated grant.

The grant, offered by the education department's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, would have provided about $170,000 annually for three years to support programming and marketing aimed at reducing alcohol use among Swanton youth.

"I'm surprised, shocked, dismayed," said Neil Toeppe, board president for the Swanton Area Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization that was named as a grant beneficiary. The coalition provides alcohol and drug-free after-school activities for Swanton students.

"We operate on a shoestring budget," Mr. Toeppe said. "This would have kept us going for years."

In the five years since its inception, the coalition has hosted between three and five alcohol-free after-school events annually, in addition to operating an alcohol-free student group and working to reduce parental tolerance of underage drinking.

The grant would have allowed the coalition to expand its scope dramatically. It provided funding for the group to hire three staff members to carry out programming. It would have allowed the group to host an event after every Swanton football game, Mr. Toeppe said.

Dani Taylor and Grace Waterstradt, both 15, were two of a small number of members of the community coalition's student group, Students Encouraging Educated Decisions, who attended the meeting in support of the grant.

"It's ridiculous," Miss Taylor said.

"They said that they'll try to make more [alcohol-free] things for us to do but they haven't," said Miss Waterstradt.

Mr. Toeppe said that the community coalition has "a little bit of money" left in its treasury. The group will continue applying for other grants, he said.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.

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