Volume 18 • Issue 18 | September 23 - 29, 2005

Parents and children gather outside P.S. 20, one of the Downtown schools facing after school program cuts.

City’s after school cuts hit Chinatown & L.E.S. hardest

By Vanessa Romo

A citywide overhaul of after school services, by the Department of Youth and Community Development, is leaving hundreds of families in Lower Manhattan confused and without much needed after school child care services.

Fanning herself under the shade of a large tree in front of Public School 20’s main entrance, one of the many schools in the Lower East Side affected by the cuts, Neraida Valle waited for her two grandchildren to make their way out of the building. “This is going to be a real problem,” she said wiping her forehead.

Only one of Valle’s grandchildren, fifth grader Liane Nunez, was able to enroll in the school’s Out-of-School-Time (O.S.T.) program but her grandson Brandon who is in the third grade, was placed on a waiting list. This means that Valle, who is 57 and cares for the children while their mother works at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, must make the 20 minute walk from her apartment to the school three times a day — at 8 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and again at 5:30 p.m. Scanning the faces of the noisy clusters of children exiting the school’s front doors, she said, “It’s not so far, but I get tired.”

The restructuring of the city’s after school programs is intended to streamline and standardize care and instruction throughout the five boroughs for the 46,000 children enrolled in the programs. Under the new system the Administration for Children’s Services, which provided a majority of the funding for after school programs in Lower Manhattan, will be phased out by 2007. In its place, D.Y.C.D. will oversee more than 200 agencies contracted to provide after school care throughout the city.

But in expanding the program to include neighborhoods that have never offered these services, schools in Lower Manhattan, which historically have had the greatest number of children enrolled in the programs, have experienced drastic cuts in funding. More than 600 student slots have been cut for the 2005-2006 school year and the funding amount allotted for each child has been reduced from $4,500 to $2,000.

To compensate for the loss of student slots, school principals and local organizations are scrambling to find funding to continue after school care services. After losing all its funding for the programs serving the children of P.S. 1 in Chinatown and P.S. 20 on the Lower East Side and a quarter of the funding for P.S. 2 in Chinatown, a total of 275 slots, David Chen executive director of the Chinese American Planning Council, a Children Services-funded agency, said his staff is furiously working to raise funds through various grant foundations. “The O.S.T. system is a wake up call for all of us,” he said. “We’re learning, you can’t just depend on one source of funding anymore.”

“The only thing we can do at this point is we have to bite the bullet,” said Chen, referring to the agency’s plans for the new school year. Chinese Planning will continue running programs for P.S. 20, which they’ve been conducting for 20 years, by charging parents a “nominal fee” of $15 per week and the agency will cover the remaining costs out of its own budget.

“This is just a temporary solution, until we find other grants to help us,” he said, acknowledging that even this may be too expensive for the families of P.S. 20, where 99 percent of students live at the poverty level. “These people need us, they depend on us. We have to be here for them.”

Similarly, Danielle Agranati, the interim director of after school programs for Henry Street Settlement, an organization that continues to be partially funded by the non-profit After School Corporation, said Henry Street is combining grant monies from 21st Century, After School and the city to bolster the number of children it can serve. Still, the money isn’t enough to make up for the 325 slots cut this year.

“We got $100,000 from T.A.S.C. to provide after school services for P.S. 134, which saved that program,” she said. But at P.S. 20, Henry Street is still 125 slots under the 300 it had last year. “A grant from 21st Century is paying for 100 slots and luckily, we got an extra 75 slots from [the city] over the summer,” said Agranati.

Lower Manhattan schools have been hardest hit by the reorganization because they contained the greatest number of children enrolled in after school programs, said Michael Ognibene, a D.Y.C.D. spokesperson, in an e-mail to Downtown Express in August.

Under the A.C.S. system, the Chinese-American Planning Council had 730 of Manhattan’s 1,500 after-school program slots.

“It’s like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and it shouldn’t be this way,” said Felix Gil, principal of P.S. 20 who is waiting on a state Anti-Violence grant to fund programs for third and fourth graders. “[After school care] is not a luxury anymore. This is not a city where you can get by on one salary, so that one parent can go to work and the other can stay at home with the kids. We should have something in place for families and it should be standard,” he said.

In August, after a rally at P.S. 20 where more than 500 parents, teachers and students expressed their dismay over the cuts, the city allocated an additional 254 slots for P.S. 2, 19, 20 and 130, for children previously served by the Administration for Children’s Services.

But parents and teachers want help for the students still shut out of the program.

In a telephone interview, the city’s Ognibene yelled “when is it going to end.”

Nevertheless, Gil still hopes that the city will find additional funding and slots to meet their needs.

Until then, eight-year-old Jenny Chan, a third grader at P.S. 20, waits for her sister Min, a seventh grader and former P.S. 20 student, to pick her up after school. “It would be good for her if she gets to stay after school because I used to like it a lot,” said Min who attended the programs run by Chinese Planning Council from first through sixth grades.

“The teachers really help you a lot and they understand you. They know what it’s like to be in school here,” she said, shifting a stack of books from her right hip to her left. “But,” she added, “if not, then me and my brother can help her with her homework. He’s an eighth grader.”


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