Accounting error leaves Portland agency LearningWorks in a pinch

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PORTLAND — LearningWorks, the West End-based education and community organization, is looking for help to fund its after-school program following an unexpected loss in federal grant money.

LearningWorks (formerly Portland West) is the recipient of a five-year federal grant for its  program aimed at struggling third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The agency is one of more than 30 schools and organizations receiving the funding, which is allocated by the state.

But because of an accounting error by the state Department of Education, LearningWorks and the other recipients are facing a 34 percent cut in their 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding. The department reportedly mistakenly over-funded the program.

“We received $220,000 last year and were supposed to for the first three years,” said LearningWorks executive director Ethan Strimling. “Instead, we’re getting $145,000 this year.”

The $75,000 hole means LearningWorks either has to raise money through private fundraising or reduce the number of children served by the program.

“We had 120 to 125 kids last year,”Strimling said. “This means we’d have to scale back to 75 or 80. That’s kicking out kids who have already started.”

He said the state is trying to find replacement funding for the affected schools and organizations, including previously untapped federal stimulus funds. No one could be reached at the state Tuesday morning for comment.

In the meantime, LearningWorks put out a call for help to raise money for the summer portion of the program. Strimling said Wright Express gave $5,000 last week. The organization has set up a donations page on its website, Learningworks.me. It costs $105 for a student to attend the summer program for a week.

The after-school program takes place at Reiche and East End community schools, and there are plans to expand to Riverton. In addition to offering kids help with homework, guest teachers and hands-on learning during the school year, LearningWorks offers the program during the month of August.

“It’s for kids who are falling behind a little bit,” Strimling  said.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net

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