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Local resident battles cuts to Sellwood Community Center - with math

by: MERRY MACKINNON - SMILE Board Member Bradley Heintz knows the numbers, when it comes to Sellwood Community Centers finances and demographics. A mathematician, Heintz (shown here at home) put together a PowerPoint analysis, and presented it to Portland Parks and Recreation officials at a recent meeting addressing proposed cuts to the Sellwood Community Center. When Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood representatives recently met with the Director of Portland Parks and Recreation Mike Abbaté, to discuss the proposed budget cut to the Sellwood Community Center, SMILE Board Member Bradley Heintz maintained that since Sellwood Community Center’s cost recovery is the second highest “program activity recovery rate” of all twelve Portland community centers, its budget shouldn’t be cut as drastically as proposed.

A mathematician, Heintz had prepared a financial and demographic PowerPoint presentation, compiled using Parks’ own data on the Sellwood Community Center. In his research, Heintz found that the Center succeeds – based on Parks’ own targets. “In every key financial and service target, Sellwood was on top,” observed Heintz.

He also pointed out that dramatically-cutting the Center’s program activity would be especially unfair to its service area's 23,700 low-income residents – since 30 percent of children in Sellwood Community Center's service area qualify for free and reduced lunches.

A key objective of the Budget Advisory Committee, which Portland Parks & Recreation consulted for policy guidance on cuts, is to maintain equitable access to recreation programming, services, properties and facilities, especially for the most vulnerable populations, explained Portland Parks & Recreation Media Relations Officer Mark Ross.

Free and reduced lunches are one key indicator of vulnerability. But, he added, other community centers in the system that still receive General Fund dollars have a higher percentage of area children who receive free and reduced lunches than does Sellwood Community Center.

At the meeting, Heintz also pointed out that a $60,000 cut would be drastic for Sellwood Community Center, but it represents just 1.2 percent of Parks’ entire $4,882,000 proposed budget cuts. He suggested distributing the $60,000 cut across community centers, basing those smaller amounts on the number of middle- and higher-income users at each facility. According to Heintz’ analysis, that would reduce the cut to Sellwood to just over $4,000: “Sixty-thousand dollars is a big number; $4,091 – that’s the number where we can help pull our share.”

But Ross said that, aside from Sellwood Community Center, the budget proposals as they now stand already include a net loss of seven Portland Parks & Recreation positions in community centers – one each in the East Portland Community Center, Charles Jordan Community Center, Mt Scott Community Center, and the Southwest Community Center.

“In addition, three staff positions in Adaptive and Inclusive Recreation/Senior Recreation would be eliminated (with some program components restructured); these positions currently provide services in community centers and some other locations,” Ross said.

While Parks officials offered no resolution at this meeting with Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood representatives, the Founder and Chair of the Friends of Sellwood Community Center Kevin Downing, who was also at the meeting, called it a very good conversation.

Downing added: “We’re going to continue to work to persuade the City Council to remove Sellwood Community Center as a cut to this year’s budget, and to negotiate with Portland Parks and Recreation over long-term strategies to keep the Center open.”