BRENTWOOD -- A popular after-school program for middle school students could soon be among the casualties of the economic downturn.

The Brentwood Police Activities League's After the Bell program, which has been funded partially by the city since 2003, is among the programs that could be cut as city staff look for ways to reduce spending in the 2008-2009 budget.

After the Bell provides free snacks, homework help and sports activities for about 155 students at Adams, Edna Hill and Bristow middle schools.

"The city is having to look very hard at a number of programs, of which this is one," Parks and Recreation Director Craig Bronzan said.

Having recently decided to cut the program down to four days a week and begin charging for attendance, PAL leaders are now preparing a presentation to take to the City Council on March 25 that will set out long-term funding options and explain the program's mission, with the aim of saving it.

"We like to think of the After the Bell program as a prevention program," said Jeff Altman, president of PAL's board of directors. "The reason those kids aren't involved with gangs ... is because they're in a great program after school."

The Brentwood City Council agreed in 2003 to match PAL with up to $50,000 a year, in addition to providing full-time staff and administrative support. According to the resolution approved by council, PAL would raise at least $50,000 each year.

That arrangement was supposed to last only two years, until funding from Proposition 49, which provided before- and after-school program grants, kicked in. But Brentwood's socio-economic profile disqualified its schools for those grants, and the city has continued subsidizing After the Bell ever since.

In 2007-2008, Brentwood allocated $158,089 to PAL, and the 2008-2009 budget currently allocates $160,903, said Poldina Scherff, recreation manager for the city.

Meanwhile, PAL has had an increasingly hard time obtaining money and is only able to raise about $20,000 a year through a handful of local events. The decisions to stop offering After the Bell on Fridays and to charge $2 a day for participants mean about a $60,000 in savings and contributions, Altman said.

The city council will likely not take action on the PAL budget on March 25 but will take the board's presentation into account at its budget workshop later in the spring.

"We realize that the city has had to make cuts, and we realize that the developer fees have almost stopped and that kind of stuff, so it's difficult times," said PAL board member Jim Wangeman. "Not just for us, but for our entire community."

Reach Hilary Costa at 925-779-7139 or hcosta@bayareanewsgroup.com.