by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church sits across the street from Ribault High School on Winton Drive. Next Monday, classes will be back in session but an important program run at the church will not.
“We had been informed that there was a possibility that the funding might not be in place to begin the school year but we didn't get a definite word until last week,” said Bishop John Guns.
The program is called Alternatives to Out of School Suspension or ATOSS. Many students who are suspended from school for up to 10 days for conduct violations are referred to the program.
There are five ATOSS sites across the city. According to Guns, his church serves about 1,500 kids a year.
“Primarily it's about them serving their suspension time in a safe environment,” said Guns.
Duval County Public Schools said for right now, only The Bridge of Northeast Florida in downtown will run the program. Funding for the other sites is still caught up in the city’s budget negotiations.
With recent violence in Jacksonville’s Northside and Northwest side, many in the community worry this could mean trouble.
“The program helps them stay out of the street, from stealing, breaking into houses,” said Northside resident Rhonda Johnson.
City council member John Crescimbeni sits on the finance committee and said the council still has to look at the budget line by line. He said the council will have a meeting on funding for Jacksonville Journey and the Children’s Commission on Aug. 28.
The city has until late September to finalize the budget.
“We are funding programs for at-risk youth, both through [Jacksonville] Journey and the Children's Commission, and I suspect those funding levels will be at least what they were last year,” said Crescimbeni.
Guns said while it’s likely not having the program won’t be permanent, a gap in resources at the start of the school year is a concern.
“If the program isn't here, where will the child go during the day and what could they possibly get into?” said Guns.
According to Guns, it costs about $220,000 to run the program. He said the money goes toward staff and other operating costs throughout the school year.
Once the budget is finalized, it’s up to the school district to decide what sites get the funding.