Vallone protests cuts at PS 2

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At East Elmhurst’s PS 2 last Thursday around 5 p.m., the time working parents usually are picking up their children from an after-school program, a commotion was brewing out front.

Dozens of children, parents and organizers joined City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and civic leader Rosemarie Poveromo to protest cuts to the city’s Community and Youth Development Department that would mean the end of the program at PS 2.

“Hold your signs up and maybe they’ll zoom in,” one woman shouted to the children, who held pieces of posterboard with handwritten slogans like “Please save HANAC.”

HANAC is a Manhattan-based social services nonprofit with an office in Queens.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget proposal includes cutting $7.5 million in funding for the so-called Out of School Time programs. The City Council is still negotiating a final budget that would close the projected $4.9 billion deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.

“They just took our W train and now they want to hit Queens unfairly with after-school closings,” Vallone said, noting 17 of the 33 after-school programs slated to be cut citywide are in Queens. “That’s outrageous. This community pays its taxes and it needs to be able to get to work to do that.”

PS 2 has the only such program in the East Elmhurst postal code. Vallone said the next-closest location is on 34th Avenue, across the Grand Central Parkway and 20 minutes away.

Chris Cardone, HANAC’s coordinator at PS 2, said 175 children are enrolled in the program, which provides homework tutoring and physical education to students until their parents can pick them up after work. Another 150 kids are on the waiting list, she said.

“They’ll be latchkey children, they’ll be out on the street,” she said. “These parents will continue to work.”

But at least one parent said she would not.

East Elmhurst resident Blanca Serna, 36, said no one else in her family would be available to pick up her 10-year-old daughter after school. She said other parents in the neighborhood are not sure what they will do without the program.

“We’re looking to hire someone, but the prices are outrageous,” she said. “Basically if I work and pay a baby-sitter, I might as well stay home.”

Her daughter, Brianna, said she would miss the social atmosphere and tutoring.

“We finish our homework, and when we go home we can relax and play video games and everything,” she said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 5:45 pm, October 10, 2011
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