Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Leaving P.S. 20 on Essex St. at 3 p.m., dismissal time, last week. City youth-services cuts have forced the school to scale back its after-school programs.

Lower East Side, Chinatown feel after-school cuts

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 childcare services.

Fanning herself under the shade of a large tree in front of the entrance of Public School 20 on Essex St., 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.

One of Valle’s grandchildren, fifth-grader Liane Nunez, was able to enroll in the school’s Out-of-School-Time 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 on E. 14th St., 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 up until now has 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 organizations 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-’06 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 A.C.S. 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, 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-American Planning Council 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 organization 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 low fee 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, interim director of after-school programs for Henry Street Settlement, an organization that continues to be partially funded by the nonprofit After School Corporation, said Henry Street is combining grant monies from 21st Century, After School Corporation and the city to keep up 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,” Agranati said. But at P.S. 20, Henry Street Settlement 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 [funded by the city] over the summer,” she said.

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 The Villager 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 antiviolence 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 at which more than 500 parents, teachers and students expressed their dismay over the cuts, the city allocated an additional 254 slots for Public Schools 2, 19, 20 and 130 for children previously served by the Administration for Children’s Services.

Yet, parents and teachers want help for the students still shut out of the program. But the city still isn’t providing concrete answers.

During a telephone interview, as a Villager reporter repeatedly asked for a definitive statement — after weeks of asking without receiving one — on whether all the cut O.S.T. slots will be restored, D.Y.C.D. spokesperson 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, 8-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-American 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,” Min 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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