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Pols push for Bayside Beacon funding

Chamber orchestra instructor Jennifer Schecter leads students in an after-school practice at MS 158 in Bayside. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

Fighting to save Bayside’s Beacon program has become all too routine for leaders in northeast Queens, but this year’s battle comes with a twist.

Elected officials and educators toured the MS 158 after-school programs last week for a firsthand look at what they were preparing to defend yet again after they were put on the budgetary chopping block.

“These type of cuts go on year after year,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said. “It’s a continual battle with the city to restore this funding.”

Borough leaders were in the same spot last year when the after-school programs were in danger of losing funding in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget, but the City Council bailed out seven of the 81 Beacons with more than $2 million in discretionary funding.

This time around, Avella said he worried about how the 19th Council District’s discretionary funding would be managed after its representative, Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), was arrested on charges of bribery allegedly to rig the upcoming mayoral race so Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) could run on the GOP line.

With the final call on Halloran’s discretionary funds now in the hands of Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), Avella said he would be working with elected officials from the area to make sure the borough still has a say.

Avella joined with other community leaders, including Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece, state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), Democratic District Leader and Council candidate Austin Shafran and others to experience the programs up close.

Different group activities were buzzing throughout the school as teachers showed off their students’ skills for community leaders last week. Chamber orchestra instructor Jennifer Schecter led her young musicians through a tune before stressing the dependence on Beacon funding.

“With the Beacon’s support, they do a lot of collaboration with our school. This has been a really valuable experience for all the students and for the whole community,” Schecter said. “This school has no orchestra program, so before Beacon created the orchestra, these kids had absolutely nowhere to learn string instruments in this school.”

Beacon programs are academically driven community centers that take place after school, during summer vacation and on weekends and holidays to provide activities for both children and families. They include different subjects such as sports, vocational training, dance, drama and more.

The seven programs slated to be shut down for the second year in a row include 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, 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 the Hudson Guild at MS 414 in Manhattan.

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

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