Brothers can't spare a dime

Future dropout? Meet City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s proposed City budget for 2011. Y’all can, like, hang out in the garage for a little bit together, but then you’ll have to go.

Future Baby Mama? Yeah, I know the rec center is closing early these days because of the budget cuts. But we’ve got a date with an old coke buddy and don’t want you around. Can’t you find an abandoned loading dock somewhere to hang with your friends?

Wannabe gangster? For the last time, no, Big Brothers doesn’t have a mentor for you. Now shove off. The Street will look after you.

Under the City’s proposed 2011 budget, a thousand at-risk San Antonio children will linger on a growing waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas mentors even as City leaders lament our sky-high teen-pregnancy and dropout rates. For the second year in a row, BBBS has been zeroed out of the City’s budget, meaning that hundreds of kids that otherwise would have been paired with a caring adult volunteer and begun learning key life skills … won’t.

It’s hard for BBBS President and CEO Denise Barkhurst to understand. “We met with every single council person, including all their staffers, during the past year to ask why our budget had been cut for the current budget cycle. No one really knew why,” Barkhurst said. Of course, when the 2010 budget was put together, there was no CEO at BBBS. The group was in the midst of a transition in leadership. After she was appointed, Barkhurst started trying to get in to see the director of Community Initiatives to get the group’s funding restored. It took six months to get the meeting, and then-director Dennis Campa said he wanted “more information on which kids you’re serving,” Barkhurst recalled. “I said, ‘I can send you more information about the kids we’re serving … We’re serving kids in poverty, living in homes affected by incarceration of a family member, sometimes both parents.’ I’m not really sure what he was talking about.”

The City and BBBS once had a longstanding relationship: For at least 10 years, the City had committed anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 annually to the program. It takes about $1,000 per year to serve each child by training mentors and managing those relationships. BBBS currently has 2,000 volunteer mentors working with local kids. Another 400 would-be volunteers are lined up and ready to help, but the group doesn’t have the resources to train and match them to the more than 1,000 kids waiting in line for a friend.

“We’re a little disappointed because we have been working with the City on its dropout initiative, knowing that kids in our program, statistically, research has proven are more likely to graduate, stay in school, stay out of trouble,” she said. She’s supported by statistics such as the following:

• A University of Texas 20-year study found 87 percent of children in a BBBS program graduated from high school or earned a GED

• A Public/Private Ventures study showed children in BBBS are 46 percent less likely to start using drugs; 27 percent less likely to start drinking; 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school; and had better school attendance and better relationships with family members, other adults, and peers

• A Harris Interactive study found that adults mentored as children in BBBS were better educated, wealthier and more fulfilled than their peers — suggesting BBBS can break cycles linked to poverty.

Introducing her proposed budget last week, Sculley waxed poetic about its many attributes while warning Council members they would still likely hear a lot about the few negatives. Big Brothers Big Sisters was never mentioned by name, but prescient Sculley called this one: “We’ll have a Big Brother or Big Sister at every single hearing,” Barkhurst promised. Expect also to hear about community and learning centers drastically scaling back hours and services to meet the terms of the new budget, which nonetheless includes a Taser on every cop’s hip.