EAST VILLAGE — A beloved East Village after-school and summer program was hit with a sudden $2 million budget cut, leaving more than 100 children without a place to go as their parents scrambled to find other affordable options.
University Settlement, which runs the free Beacon program at East Side Community High School on East 12th Street, shut down its entire elementary summer program and also slashed the number of spots available for middle and high school students, after the state said the school was too high-performing to receive the federal funding it had gotten in the past.
"It is the kind of program it is because we had that [federal] funding," said Monique Flores, the Beacon director at University Settlement. "You build a program knowing you are going to have that continuity of funds."
Flores learned in mid-June that more than half of the funds that support the 13-year-old program — federal grants worth $460,000 per year for five years — would not be renewed because East Side Community High School has improved so much academically that it is no longer a state "priority school" in need of extra funds, University Settlement officials said.
That meant deep cuts to the Beacon program, which is designed to help local children graduate high school and offers free classes in robotics, musical theater, martial arts, dance, sewing and more, plus homework help during the school year.
The program receives basic funding from the Department of Youth and Community Development, but University Settlement had supplemented it for years with federal grants distributed by the New York State Education Department, Flores said.
However, while East Side Community High School is still a Title I school, which means it serves many low-income families, it is no longer considered one of the state's "priority schools," which are in the bottom 5 percent in terms of graduation rate and standardized test scores, according to the state Education Department website.
"This school has been going up and up and up so that it is no longer a priority school," Flores said.
The principal at East Side Community High School, Mark Federman, said the program has been a crucial part of the school's success in achieving A grades on the city's report cards, which take into account student performance and progress as well as the school environment.
"If these programs were cut, it would adversely affect our neediest and most vulnerable kids, and leave them with no affordable access to after-school programs," he said.
But, according to Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the state Education Department, there just wasn't enough money to go around in the competitive grant process.
"The department received approximately 450 proposals, but we could only fund 125 programs," he wrote in an email to DNAinfo New York.
Bienvenida Lee was one of dozens of parents left searching for another summer option after she learned in mid-June that her 6-year-old son would not be able to attend the University Settlement program, which was cut from more than 200 spots last year to just 75 this summer.
"He doesn't understand and he keeps asking me, 'I want to go back. Why can't I go back?'" said Lee, whose son attended the after-school program at East Side Community High School during the school year and thrived there.
Lee, a program manager at New York University, was able to find another last-minute summer program for her son, but she had to pay $1,200 for it.
University Settlement's after-school program will also face cuts this fall, and Flores said she has already laid off more than 35 staff members, a painful task since many of them grew up going to the program.
"Just seeing a community that I invested in being broken up for the money thing — it was very daunting, heavy, depressive to my sprit," said Kenya George, 24, who lost her coordinator position at East Side Community's Beacon program, but was lucky enough to be absorbed into other programs at University Settlement.
She started volunteering in the program as a 10th-grader and slowly worked her way up to a leader and staff member.
Looking ahead to the fall, Jeff Wade, a 59-year-old single father, said he's in "a state of limbo" about where his 6-year-old daughter Zoe will attend an after-school program.
"The only thing I can think of is getting Zoe after dismissal and bring her back to work with me," said Wade, who lives in Brooklyn.
"[The Beacon Program] is like an extended family for me," he said.