By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — The beloved after-school program at I.S. 289 won a last-minute reprieve during city budget negotiations and won't be forced to shut down.
The city restored most of the funding to the popular program at the Battery Park City middle school, along with 32 other schools across the city, following months of advocacy by students, parents and downtown officials.
"It's unfortunate that every year it has to be a fight," said Karen Gibbs, a PTA leader at I.S. 289, "but at the end of the day I'm ecstatic the funding has been restored."
Two-thirds of the students at I.S. 289 participate in the free, five-day-a-week after-school program, run by Manhattan Youth, which includes all of the school's sports teams, its theater program, homework help, a robotics club and more.
The I.S. 289 program will likely still face a 6 percent budget cut, but the exact funding details are still being worked out, according to a spokeswoman for City Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
"This budget included many painful cuts and it is not a perfect solution," Chin said in a statement. "However, these important after-school programs are saved and will continue to nurture the students of the lower Manhattan community."
Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, said he, too, was glad that the city restored about $100,000 to the program — but he is sill concerned about the impact of the remaining cuts.
Townley is also facing a cut of another kind: A private donor who gave the program $50,000 last year will likely not be able to contribute this year. Manhattan Youth plans to do a renewed fundraising push over the summer to make up for the losses.
"We still have a hard road ahead," Townley said.
Gibbs, a Battery Park City resident whose daughter will move into the eighth grade at I.S. 289 this fall, said the after-school program is particularly important to the school's many working parents.
"They need to know they have a safe place for their children to go," Gibbs said. "The uncertainty of it every year is extremely frustrating."
The city also slashed funding to I.S. 289 and 32 other schools last year, only to restore it at the last minute as well.
Both years, the city focused the cuts on 33 schools located in wealthy zip codes. But while I.S. 289 is located in the affluent Battery Park City, it draws students from all over the city, and at least 40 percent of them qualify for a free lunch, which highlights the need for the program, advocates said.
Townley said the constant fight against budget cuts makes it harder to focus on his goal of serving downtown families.
"I'd rather be taking care of children than playing politics between the mayor's office and the City Council," he said.