By Phil Corso
One sign read, “We need a place to meet. Don’t put us in the street.” Not far away in a crowd of middle-school students, parents and school officials, another sign read, “Don’t kick us when we’re down.”
A rally organized outside Marie Curie Middle School, at 46-35 Oceania St. in Bayside, Tuesday evening drew a mass of protesters against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to cut seven citywide Beacon after-school programs.
Several political leaders stood united with parents, students and Beacon officials to the sound of booming chants of “Save our Beacon!”
Anna Papandreou lives in Bayside and said the Bayside Beacon program had given her 17-year-old daughter lessons in life she would not have found anywhere else.
“I couldn’t afford to provide my daughter with the experiences she had through the Beacon program,” Papandreou said. “But our mayor thinks otherwise.”
The Beacon programs are academically driven community centers that operate after school, during summer vacation and on weekends and holidays to provide activities for children and families. Programs include basketball, Tae Kwon Do, counseling, vocational training, dance, drama and more.
Political leaders criticized the mayor for his proposals to cut the seven programs as part of a $2.1 million budget reduction plan. The cuts would need final approval by the City Council before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
“We should all feel that City Hall just doesn’t get it,” Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said. “This is the heart and soul of the after-school program and the mayor is only looking to cut it because he chose it.”
Halloran spoke alongside several other elected officials, including state Assembly members Grace Meng (D-Flushing), David Weprin (D-Little Neck), Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece.
Iannece spoke loudly through a megaphone, urging the crowd of angry students and parents not to give up the fight.
“This is not a luxury. This is a necessity,” Iannece said, stirring up a hearty round of applause.
Out of 81 Beacon programs currently running in New York City, MS 158 at 46-35 Oceania St in Bayside operates through Little Neck’s Samuel Field Y and was put on the closing list based upon the area’s socio-economic needs, according to the mayor.
Alan Stark, coordinator of Beacon services at the Samuel Field Y, said he could not believe the fight necessary to save the program.
MS 158 Principal Marie Nappi led the charge in stressing the importance of the after-school programs.
“If we lose the Beacon program, we lose a part of our family,” Nappi said. “It’s because of Beacon that our students have a safe place to go.”
Braunstein also spoke with some passion, criticizing the mayor for treating northeast Queens, especially Bayside, like it is wealthier than it really is.
“We’re a working-family community, but Bloomberg treats us like we’re the 1 percent,” Braunstein said. “If these cuts go through, there’s going to be hell to pay.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.