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City Cuts Funding to Nearly 200 After-School Programs

By Julie Shapiro | April 30, 2012 5:34pm

NEW YORK — Nearly 200 after-school programs across the city are in danger of closing for good this fall, after all of their funding was axed, officials said Monday.

Advocates have known the cuts were coming for months, but the city just notified nonprofits late last week about which programs will receive funding and which will not.

"It's disgraceful," said Lynn Appelbaum, chief program officer at the Educational Alliance, which just found out that it lost funding for three of its four programs. "It's just sad…. What's going to happen to these kids and their families?"

In all, the city slashed the number of after-school spots at elementary and middle schools from about 53,000 this year to only about 25,000 next year, the city Department of Youth and Community Development said Monday. That means that starting in September, tens of thousands of children across the five boroughs will be left with nowhere to go after school lets out.

The cuts are steepest in Manhattan, which will lose 40 of its 70 after-school programs, the city said. Brooklyn will lose nearly half of its 153 programs, The Bronx will lose 40 of its 92 programs, Queens will lose 31 of its 83 programs and Staten Island will lose six of its 19 programs, advocates said.

One of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the city is the Lower East Side and Chinatown, where P.S. 2, P.S. 20, P.S. 124, P.S. 137, P.S. 140 and P.S. 142 will lose funding.

Nancy Maxwell, 38, 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.

Without the after-school program, Maxwell, a Bronx resident, doesn't see how she can keep her job as a toll collector in Connecticut, which requires a long commute.

"I'm going to have to quit my job," Maxwell said Monday. "I don't have friends or family to make sure my children get their homework done, to make sure they're safe." 

Maxwell said the P.S. 142 program, run by the Educational Alliance, helped her daughter get over her fear of public speaking and helped her son get counseling for anger issues.

"It's not just a babysitting service," Maxwell said. "It's more like a family."

The five-day-a-week program gives kids a snack, helps them with their homework and then offers a range of enrichment activities, including a theater class that is putting on a musical version of "The Taming of the Shrew" in June. Previous budget cuts have already reduced the number of available spots from more than 200 several years ago to only about 135 this year, parents said.

When Maxwell heard about the latest cuts, she started searching for another after-school option — but she found that private programs would cost at least $100 per week per child, a price that she and her husband, a train operator for New York City Transit, cannot afford.

"I don't think it's fair," Maxwell said. "The mayor promised us children first, education first. I don't feel like he's fulfilled his promises to us. What have our children done to him for him to close the doors on them?"

The Department of Youth and Community Development released a statement saying, "The City will continue to provide high-quality, comprehensive services to our students through the Out of School Time program, and we are working within our financial reality to do so."

The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin also slammed the city for the cuts, which she said disproportionately target Lower Manhattan. Seven out of the 10 after-school programs in her district are slated to lose their funding.

"The loss of these after-school programs will have a debilitating effect on our community and on our schools," Chin said in a statement. "Parents in Chinatown and the Lower East Side cannot afford to lose these programs, and our community cannot afford to send our children out into the streets. These cuts are irresponsible."

The city partly based the cuts on the affluence of each school's surrounding neighborhood, but programs in both low-income and high-income areas were slashed.

Nonprofit leaders said they hope the mayor will restore at least some of the after-school funding, and they encouraged concerned parents to join the Campaign for Children, which is fighting the cuts.

But Michael Zisser, CEO of University Settlement, is also thinking about what he will do if more funding does not materialize. The city cut funding to the nonprofit's programs at P.S. 63 and P.S. 137 on the Lower East Side, as well as at P.S. 219 in Bedford-Stuyvesant and P.S. 636 in Bushwick.

Zisser could begin charging for the after-school programs, but most of the children University Settlement serves wouldn't be able to pay. He also could try to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up for the city's cuts, but it would be difficult to find enough donors.

"There's no reasonable explanation of why the mayor would cut something so obvious," Zisser said. "When you wipe out half a system you spent years building, it just defies explanation."

Advocates and elected officials will hold a rally and town-hall meeting about the after-school cuts May 3 at 6 p.m. at P.S. 134/P.S. 137, 293 E. Broadway.