Electeds battle to save Beacon from budget ax
By Phil Corso

Area politicians have not eased up on their efforts to save a popular after-school program from being cut.

After learning in March that Bayside’s Beacon Program through the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck could be one of seven citywide programs to close this summer, City Councilmen Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan) as well as state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) have remained vocal on the topic, openly voicing opposition to the plans.

Last week, Halloran and Garodnick joined after-school program advocates and parents to call on the city to restore funding to all seven Beacon programs earmarked for elimination in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget. They also delivered to the mayor hundreds of letters written by children from city Beacons.

“If the decision-makers walked the halls and schoolyard of MS 158 [in Bayside] after school, they would see countless children playing, learning and making friends,” Halloran said. “If they came out to see what is happening in our schools in northeast Queens, they would realize that we need the Beacon programs.”

The programs were cut in response to Bloomberg’s $2.1 million in proposed budget reductions. The reductions need final approval by the Council before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

“Instead of closing programs in specific neighborhoods, the city should trim costs from each Beacon program to make them more efficient,” Halloran said. “We must preserve these services for all New Yorkers.”

The Beacon programs are academically driven community centers that operate after school, during summer vacation and on weekends and holidays to provide activities for children and families. Programs include basketball, tae kwon do, counseling, vocational training, dance, drama and more.

“Beacon programs are so important, particularly in tough economic times,” Garodnick said. “These cuts won’t just punish children by depriving them of a place to play and learn, they will also force many parents to choose between their jobs and staying home to provide childcare.”

The seven Beacon programs to be shut down included Queens’ Samuel Field Y, at MS 158 in Bayside, and Forest Hills’ Queens Community House, at JHS 190, along with the Tottenville High School Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, the Phipps Community Development at IS 192 in the Bronx, Heart Share Human Services at IS 259 in Brooklyn, the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center at PS 198 in Manhattan and Hudson Guild at MS 414 in Manhattan.

In a letter to the mayor, Avella urged the reconsideration of the Beacon Program, but with a creative twist. In protest of Bloomberg’s recent proposal to ban large sugary drinks in select city eateries, the senator offered the after-school programs as a worthy alternative.

“I urge you to restore funding to the Beacon Program, which by providing after-school and summer school activities, gives hardworking parents, many of whom have no other option, the ability to keep their children in a safe, healthy and dependable environment,” Avella wrote in the letter.

Campaign for Children spokeswoman Michelle Yanche said the potential closure was only the tip of the iceberg.

“These cuts mean thousands of young people left without the safe, educational environments that help them succeed in school, and thousands of parents forced to quit their jobs or leave their children home alone,” Yanche said.

Out of 81 Beacon programs currently running in New York City, MS 158 at 46-35 Oceania St. in Bayside, was chosen as one of the potential closures based upon the area’s socioeconomic needs.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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