On Monday, Patrick Pinchinat and his staff walked into the auditorium of Russell Sage JHS 190 to address scores of middle-school students. After months of rallying, the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg had finally decided on a budget last Sunday. The afterschool program at the school, along with dozens across the city, was on the chopping block. But Pichinat had good news.
The finalized budget for the 2014 fiscal year would not cut funding to after-school programs.
“Everyone is feeling great,” Pinchinat said. “When we told the kids, there was a loud applause, just a roar of clapping and jumping. They were involved in a lot of the advocacy to keep the programs open. They knew it wasn’t just about us at Russell Sage, that there were other programs in the city and the kids advocated for them as well. It’s just a huge relief.”
The budget allocates $146 million to early childhood education and afterschool programming and while it is enough to keep them open, some say more could have been done.
“This budget was an opportunity to reverse the loss of 30,000 after-school seats cut over the past several years,” Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
He went on to say that unless the city asks the wealthiest residents to pay higher taxes, the budget “affirmed a status quo that continues to leave working families behind.”
However, Pinchinat and local council members couldn’t help but celebrate.
“We are very happy about saving the programs,” Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who made a promise to the community to keep the Beacon program at MS 158 open, said. “It was a commitment we made and it’s incredibly gratifying to have succeeded.”
“Despite the many obstacles and challenges that were presented in this year’s Executive proposal, it gives me great pleasure to pass a budget that saves many of the City’s vital services from firehouses and libraries to child care and afterschool programs that were slated to close, including the Beacon program in my district,” councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said. “This budget is not only a victory for the working-class families that rely on these programs but to the children that benefit from the safe, inclusive and supportive culture of learning and cognitive development.”
Across the city, children, parents, and educators made speeches, held call-in and write-in days all in hopes of appealing to the mayor. Having the students speak out is something Pinchinat said is a great lesson learned for them.
“They learned a great deal about democracy and although they don’t vote, they have a voice and they have rights,” Pinchinat said. “By going to rallies and creating poster boards, they learn public speaking, leadership qualities and a great deal of resiliency. We say that you are the future and that we have to invest in them and that’s what we’re doing. Many of them have even made a pledge to do the same for the children of the future when they grow up.”
In addition to afterschool programs, libraries, the New York City Housing Authority facilities and public swimming pools were also given last-minute reprieve.
“Our administration’s final budget reflects the commitment to sound financial management that has helped keep our city on firm financial footing, and to the services and programs New Yorkers rely on,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement.
This isn’t the first time these programs have been on the chopping block, leading some to allude to a Kabuki dance of sorts.
“We’ve been able to save them in the past and there really were not that many budget cuts in this round,” Weprin said. “While there is a dance involved, we were nervous. This is my top priority so I was confident but that being said, you never know.”
“The City Council takes pride of its track record in prioritizing issues that are of great importance to New Yorkers,” Koslowitz said. “I thank Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilman Domenic Recchhia (D-Brooklyn) for their steadfast leadership and unwavering commitment to our families and children throughout this entire process. I am also grateful to Mayor Bloomberg for delivering a budget that puts our workers, families and children first.”
“We are very thankful to the City Council, in particular Karen Koslowitz and thankful to the mayor for coming to an agreement,” Pinchinat said. “They heard our voices and I think they made the right decision.