Mayor Slashes After-School Programs but Spares Teacher Cuts
CITY HALL — Thousands of city kids will be left with nowhere to go after school, and 20 fire companies will be shuttered under the mayor's executive budget plan, which was unveiled Thursday — though Hizzoner hinted that some of the cuts may never see the light of day.
The proposal follows through with plans laid out earlier this year to strip funding for 8,200 early learning spots and more than 200 after-school programs that serve about 27,000 elementary- and middle-school students across the five boroughs as of next fall.
Critics have slammed the move as "out of touch" and advocates have warned the cuts would be disastrous for working parents and for kids.
But there was also some good news for the city's children in the budget plan — nearly 2,600 teaching spots that had been slated for elimination through attrition were spared.
“Certainly, we have been living above our means, and there’s a correction taking place," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during a presentation at City Hall, during which he said the city was still reeling from lagging tax revenues despite a boom in the tech and tourism sectors.
The budget relies heavily on several one-shot cash infusions, including $1 billion from the expected sale of yellow taxi medallions and a massive settlement payout from the CityTime scandal, which added a nearly $500 million to city coffers.
As a result of the extra cash, the city has shifted an additional $185 million to the Department of Education to replace the approximately 2,570 teachers that are expected to retire or leave their posts for other reasons before next year, officials said.
"We’re thrilled that that has been avoided in the executive budget,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who said that the shrinking teaching force had been one of the council's top concerns with the preliminary budget plan the mayor announced in February.
Despite that good news, Quinn and others officials slammed the child care cuts and plans to shutter 20 fire companies across the city as "unacceptable." Which fire companies will be targeted has not been determined yet.
“If these cuts were implemented, they would create tremendous disruption for families, communities and the providers who provide this important childcare," Quinn said.
Immediately following the budget release, dozens of advocates and council members rallied on City Hall steps and vowed to fight the cuts.
"It’s ridiculous," said City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents Upper Manhattan, and said that many struggling families in his district need city childcare to make ends meet.
"It will mean that the city will be responsible for those families that now have to quit their jobs in order to take care of the children," he said.
Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, which runs after-school programs for about 20,000 children across the city, called the new "unfathomable."
"It's disgraceful," she said. "It's about helping families stay in the workforce. It's about helping children succeed in school. I just don't understand [the cuts]. It doesn't make any sense to me."
Nancy Maxwell, 38, of The Bronx, said she counts on the free after-school program at P.S. 142 on Attorney Street to give her third-grade son and fourth-grade daughter something productive to do until she gets out of work as a toll collector in Connecticut.
"It's a travesty. I'm heartbroken," said Maxwell on Monday. "I'm going to have to quit my job [as a toll collector]. I don't have friends or family to make sure my children get their homework done, to make sure they're safe."
Both Quinn and the mayor also seemed to strongly hint that both the child care and fire company cuts might be spared over the coming months, as the council and mayor work to reach a final budget deal.
“You’ll have to wait and see what we do.... We will come to an agreement collaboratively with the City Council on or before June 30th," said the mayor when asked about the possibility of restorations before the end of June.
Quinn was also optimistic.
"In a process like this, all you need is an openness to negotiation," she said with a smile.
In recent years, numerous threats, including plans to fire 4,000 teachers and close numerous fire companies, have been thwarted at the last minute thanks to backroom deals and the use of the council's own discretionary funds.
The council and the mayor must agree to a final budget before June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Hearings on the mayor's proposal will begin on May 14.