City’s Senior Center Cuts Hit LES Harder Than Any Other Neighborhood

It’s like a second home.  Every weekday, around 150 seniors gather inside a lively community center at 189 Allen Street. Some come for a hot meal — others for ballroom dancing — or a friendly game of checkers. On Friday, we stopped by the center, run by University Settlement, to talk with seniors and staff members about the unsettling news that this center and five others on the Lower East Side are on the chopping block.

On Thursday, the city’s Department of Aging announced a draconian plan to close 105 senior centers (40% of the system) due to proposed budget cuts in Albany.  Service providers say the LES is being hit harder than any other neighborhood. According to Gotham Gazette, the Department of Aging decided to cut 30% from each community district. Any center serving fewer than 85 meals a day was placed on the closure list.

New Design High School Assesses Impact of Budget Cuts

Principals across New York City are having to make some tough choices. Last month the Department of Education announced $405 million in budget cuts, averaging 4.9 percent per school. But recently a group of principals told the New York Post the cuts were actually deeper, more like 10 percent.

We asked Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School on Essex Street, for his take on the situation. He said they have until the middle of this month to figure the budget out, but his initial impression is that New Design will have to cut about 5-percent. Conti says he expects a deficit of around $150,000. He told us, "All schools have to make some tough decisions right now and, thus, being as thoughtful as possible about where the cuts will take place.  The tough thing is that some of our expenditures (like some salaries) are going up so we are feeling the cut much more."

The principal of JHS 123 in the Bronx, Virginia Connelly, painted a much bleaker picture for the Post. Saying the cuts at her school amounted to a half million dollars, she pleaded, "I'm used to doing things with one hand tied behind my back. But don't tie both my hands." The Department of Education has promised no teachers will be fired due to the cutbacks but after school programs are likely to be targeted.

Conti said he understands Connelly's point of view, but he's upbeat: "We are focusing more on the core things we can do better and using the cuts to have conversations about what we really value.  We are working harder at fundraising and continuing to look for ways to make the school feel richer and fuller for staff and students.  On the opening day of school next September I expect the school to be a better place."

New Design High School is one of five schools that replaced the low-performing Seward Park High School in 2005. They emphasize a rigorous college prep education with design woven through the curriculum.

Check out our recent video report from the roof of the New Design High School, profiling the "Rooftop Legends."

The Battle to Save Crucial After School Programs

Educational Alliance Teen Center students Mariah, Nadia, Andrea, Maranda and Bianca with tour guide at Cornell College.

Andrea Scott has an infectious smile. She rattles off a list of activities – dance, poetry club, raising money for kids in Africa — faster than I can write them down. Like most teenagers, she’s a little bit torn about whether to go to college close by  or far away from home. But a couple of years ago, withdrawn and struggling emotionally, it didn’t seem all that likely Andrea would being going to college at all.  Her turnaround can be traced to the Educational Alliance’s remarkable after school college prep program. But in spite of its 100-percent success rate, the “Edgies” Teen Center is one of 88 after school programs the city is abandoning in order to balance next year’s budget.

Citywide, the budget cuts mean almost 11 thousand kids will have nowhere to go after school. Now the Educational Alliance is spearheading a campaign to restore the $6 million cut by the Bloomberg administration. They already have 2600 signatures on a petition that will be delivered to the mayor at a City Hall rally June 10th.

Wednesday News Links

New York City school principals receive their budgets from Chancellor Joel Klein's office today, Klein says the schools face cuts of about 5-percent next year, not as deep as he feared. While there will be no major layoffs, he predicted some schools would be forced to lay off teaching assistants and aides.

The number of confirmed swine flu cases in New York has now climbed past the 200 mark. Today, P.S. 130, the Hernando Desoto School on Baxter (near Grand Street), closes.

The New York Comptroller's Office is concerned about the cuts in MTA station agents. On their web site, you can look up how many agents have been eliminated from your stop. For instance, one part time agent was eliminated from both the F train stop at East Broadway and the F/J/M/Z Essex Street stop.

Frank Bruni can't get enough of those crunchy breadsticks at Sorella on Allen Street. He also seemed to enjoy the "duck fat-soaked muffin that’s not only slathered with a thick
chicken-liver mousse but also, in case that’s not heart-stopping action
enough, topped with a soft-yolked fried egg and bacon."