Hundreds of students, parents and legislators rallied on the steps of Queens Borough Hall Tuesday, decrying cuts in Mayor Bloomberg’s budget proposal they said would devastate after-school programs that provide academic support and recreational opportunities to thousands of children whose parents work during the day.
Bloomberg’s budget, if approved by the City Council, would cut about $23.4 million to Out of School Time, a city initiative that provides funding to after-school programs throughout the five boroughs. OST had a $110.7 million budget in 2010.
Advocates said that budget cut translates into the elimination of about 16,000 after-school slots, or about 25 percent of the OST system. According to after-school advocates, at least one out of five children receiving services at the 102 after-school OST programs in Queens would not have a slot.
“We get a lot of homework help there,” said Sumia Hong, a 10-year-old who attends the Samuel Fields Y after-school program at PS 169 in Bayside. “There are fun activities, like going outside and cooking. There’s arts and crafts. We’d be really sad if we they took this away.”
The PS 169 program, which serves about 150 children, would be completely eliminated if Bloomberg’s budget cuts are not restored.
Students, parents and legislators spoke of the wide array of opportunities the various programs provide, ranging from break-dancing to SAT preparation to college counseling. Many at the rally noted a number of the students who attend the programs have nowhere else to go after school because parents work and cannot afford to hire babysitters or send their children to private programs.
Susan Matloff-Nieves, associate executive director at Queens Community House, said, for example, that her organization, which serves 20,000 residents throughout Queens, would be forced to axe a number of “innovative teen programs,” including an evening social center, a break-dancing group and an initiative that connects students with homebound adults.
Linda Mejia, whose 7 year old son, Miguel, attends the after-school program at PS 266 in Bellerose, said its elimination would be devastating.
“The counselors and staff are extensions of the school family,” she said. “He knows them all by name and calls them friend. The programs offered are also picking up where our school curriculum falls short.”
Richmond Hill mother Nereida Valverde said the fact that her children attend after-school programs gives her peace of mind.
“We rely on these programs year after year,” she said. “Have you asked yourself, Mr. Mayor, what will happen to these kids without these programs? These kids could get involved in crimes, guns and drugs.”
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Bayside) all said they are fighting to restore funding to after-school programs.
“These cuts will not only impact children, families and their local communities, it will also place additional burdens on other resources and social services that are already stretched dangerously thin,” Marshall said.
Weprin echoed the concerns of many parents at the rally.
“Without these programs, parents can’t go to their jobs and know their children are learning in a safe environment,” he said.
Koo noted many of the parents of children in the programs are immigrants working several jobs who need the after-school initiatives because they cannot be at home before dinner time.
“After-school programs are a priority,” Halloran agreed. “Where are kids after school when their parents are out working? Two-income households are a necessity to live in this city.”
Legislators said city officials can find savings elsewhere in the budget.