Elected officials and area education activists toured MS 158’s Beacon program to raise awareness of the after-school program’s proposed demise at the hands of a budgetary ax.
It is the second consecutive year the school’s Beacon program has been slated to be shut down at the end of the school year by the mayor’s budget. Seven in total around the city are facing cuts.
The City Council saved the program last year, in what many term the usual alarmist budgetary dance. But some are now worried a “Boy who cried wolf” scenario may emerge and parents, kids and activists will assume the beacon program will be rescued again.
“We need to stop looking at it as if this program is expendable in any way,” said Ted Teng, the chairman of Community Board 11’s Youth Services committee. “Every single politician ever has always said education is the silver bullet to the problems of society. There should be no reason this should be considered expendable.”
Beacons are school-based centers focused on keeping kids busy well after class is over. They remain open on weekends and school holidays, and during 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.
“The mayor and his administration, when they want to cut something they just keep coming back at you year after year,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). “The second year it’s on the cut list, less people come out because they think it’ll be saved again. We just have to make sure that everybody fights just as hard this year.”
The MS 158 Beacon program is short one defender, as Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) faces corruption charges. That leaves Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) left to champion a program that physically isn’t in his district, but is used by many of his constituents.
“Don’t know exactly what Councilman Halloran’s status is going to be at the moment, but I’m going to speak on behalf of his constituents,” he said.