Boro Hall rally blasts mayor’s plan to cut children’s programs in budget

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Steve Mosco

Hundreds rallied on the steps of Borough Hall last Thursday as the final dismissal bell loomed for after-school programs facing budget cuts.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2013 fiscal year budget calls for cuts to child care programs that would leave 47,000 children and families in the city without after-school options, according to Campaign for Children, a children’s advocacy organization.

The rally drew elected officials, parents, program volunteers and children — all gathered to tell the mayor that while the cuts might save some money, it will ultimately be devastating to the children of Queens.

“These closures mean that thousands of young people will be left without the educational, enriching after-school environments that help them to succeed in school,” said Campaign for Children representative Emma Woods. “Thousands of parents will be forced to scramble to find safe places for their children while they’re at work.”

Borough President Helen Marshall said the hours after school can be the most dangerous for school-age children and programs like the ones proposed to be cut keep children away from temptations such as drugs, alcohol and teen pregnancy.

“We are taking this message to the mayor and to the governor. Do not shut down these programs,” she said at the rally. “We’re going to win this and keep these programs open and available to the working families in Queens.”

One of the largest programs affected by the cuts would be the city’s Beacon programs, with the Queens facilities in danger of closure being Queens Community House at JHS 190 in Forest Hills, at 108-25 62nd Drive,) and the Samuel Field Y at MS 158 in Bayside, at 46-35 Oceania St. These Beacon programs operate after school, on weekends, on school holidays and throughout the summer.

“I don’t think Bloomberg understands the impact these cuts would have,” said Jessi Koenigsberg, an art teacher at MS 158 in Bayside, who works in the homework room of the school’s Beacon program. “Working parents rely on these programs. Where would children go? They would be on the streets and that is where they get into trouble.”

One of those youths who stayed off the streets thanks to his neighborhood Beacon program is Jonathan Uni, 16, a counselor in training at the Beacon program in Forest Hills.

“These programs give kids a place to play sports that’s not the streets,” said Uni, whose younger brother Michael attends a Beacon program. “The mayor says he cares about what children are doing after the school bell rings, that they shouldn’t be out on the streets. But where does he think they are going to go if the programs are cut?”

Parents feel especially slighted by the possible cuts to these programs, which many of them use because they need to work to support their families.

Jennifer Swenson, a single mother from Bayside, said there is no backup plan if she loses Beacon.

“I don’t have family in the area that can watch my sons,” said Swenson, whose two young boys, Nicolas and Malachay, attend a Beacon program. “I don’t have the resources to send them to expensive daycare and I’m not going to make them sit home alone, that’s for sure.”

And the children themselves do not want to be home alone either. Youngsters, including friends Jasmine Steele and Cameron Casalta, said after-school programs give them the chance to be with friends — without the stresses of standardized testing.

“If [Beacon] closed, I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Casalta, 11.

“How dare you, Bloomberg,” said Steele, 11. “How could you do this?”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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