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Boro Beacon programs face closure in planned ‘13 budget

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman wrote a letter urging that the Beacon program at IS 216 in Fresh Meadows be kept open. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

For the first time ever, a popular after-school program could face branch closures under the mayor’s proposed 2013 budget which could mean the loss of eight centers in Queens.

“This is the first time that a mayoral budget is suggesting the closure of a program that has been around for 20 years,” said Deepmalya Ghosh, of the The Child Center of NY, speaking about the Beacon after-school program.

Beacon programs were started in the 1990s to give students a constructive way to spend their time after the school bell rang and before they had to be home in the evening.

The children do schoolwork, play sports, learn instruments and participate in arts and other constructive activities through nearly 80 Beacon programs throughout the city, which are run by various agencies like The Child Center and the Samuel Field Y.

Since its inception, the Beacon program has received roughly $400,000 each year from the city budget, which is its prime source of income.

The Child Center of NY operates each of the Beacons under the auspices of the city Department of Youth & Community Development.

Specifically, the proposed budget, which is in no way final, suggested cutting seven Beacon programs across the city.

Based on the way the department chose to cut other programs, The Child Center has surmised that centers that exist in the ZIP codes with the least need will get the ax first, according to Ghosh.

The center compiled a list of 16 schools that are at risk of becoming one of the seven programs to close and eight of those programs are in Queens.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) was not happy to hear that closures were being considered, especially two Beacon programs in his district.

On Jan. 13, he wrote a letter to Youth Department Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav, urging her to keep the Beacon programs at the Parsons Educational Complex, at 158-40 76th Road in Hillcrest, and IS 216 Beacon, at 64-20 175th St. in Fresh Meadows, which together serve 2,200 people a year, according to Lancman.

“The proposed elimination of the Parsons and Samuel Field Beacon after-school programs is very troubling to me and to parents across the district,” he said. “These programs are not merely childcare services — they are engaging programs that provide educational support and character development.”

And if children do not have a place to go after school for constructive activities, they will hang out and seek to entertain themselves in some other manner, Ghosh said.

But while the possibility of cuts is bad enough, Ghosh said the Beacons on the chopping block are not getting a fair chance.

Since the decision is based on ZIP codes, affluent neighborhoods surrounding lower-income areas can create misleading statistics.

In the ZIP code surrounding Parsons Beacon, 70 percent of the children who attend are from Pomonok Houses, according to Ghosh, who had previously been the director of that Beacon program.

“When you use a blanket formula to make some serious decisions about programs that have been working for 20 years and are well-loved, it is a serious gamble,” Ghosh said.

But the budget is far from decided, and a vigorous back-and-forth will likely ensue before the dust settles in July, although Ghosh will probably enjoy this year’s budget dance even less than last.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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