Parents in Northeast Queens are finding themselves thinking “Here we go again,” as the Beacon Program at MS 158 in Bayside is on the chopping block a year after it was saved from the budgetary ax by the City Council.
“The City Council came to our rescue in June, but here we are again in the same place one year later,” said District 25 Community Education Council President Kim D’Angelo at a legislative breakfast on Friday that saw parents, elected officials and residents blast any plans to end the program after June.
Beacons are school-based centers focused on keeping kids busy well after class is over. They remain open on weekends, school holidays, vacations and even the summer. Activities for the kids range from math clubs to martial arts, and in some cases include adult programs such as English language classes and providing General Education Diplomas. There are currently 80 Beacons around the city, though seven may be cut if funding is not found.
D’Angleo said MS 158’s program appears to be considered expendable because the surrounding neighborhoods are relatively affluent.
“Some ZIP codes in our district have high income levels; but that does not mean that everyone who lives in those ZIP codes is driving a Lexus,” she said at the breakfast. “Things are still tough and many families are struggling, often working more than one job and depending on free programs that were designed to support all children and families citywide.”
Community Board 8’s Library, Youth and Education Chairman Marc Haken was integral in the creation of the Beacon program, and said it was saved from steeper cuts by Hurricane Sandy; parents and kids found themselves turning to the program as a refuge after the storm.
“Hurricane Sandy saved the Beacons, and as a result the city allocated money to save all but seven of the schools,” he said.
About 90 percent of the kids at MS 158’s Beacon program are on the honor roll, D’Angelo said, but may find themselves with “nowhere to go but home to an empty house simply because their parents chose to live near people with higher incomes. Our children and our community need this program.”
MS 158’s is the only Beacon program in the entire Community Board 11 area, making it of particular concern for the CB’s Youth Service’s chairman Ted Teng.
“This isn’t just a glorified daycare program,” he said. “Mayor Bloomberg himself has said time and time again what happens after the school bell rings is just as important as what happens in the classroom.”
The community faced the same battle last year, when the same number of Beacon programs was slated for closure. Like then, the mayor’s proposed cuts to the Department of Youth and Community Development would doom the Beacon.
And like then, Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) have promised to find the funding the keep the program alive.
“It is frustrating we have to go through this dance every year,” Weprin said. “We also have to be concerned that the money is not there to fund them. I want to be clear that the Beacon programs are a big priority for me.”
The budgetary tango will, as usual, stretch into the late spring, and MS 158’s Beacon will be among those programs the councilman is trying to revive. And he hopes that, like last year, some source of funding will be found again in May.