Students at the Trail Blazers after-school program.
Unfortunately for New York City public schools and low-income kids, the budget of the NYC Department of Education does not have any contingency clause for a volcanic uprooting of traditional income streams as seen with the COVID-19 pandemic.
I still do not understand why the top-heavy senior administrators of the Department can't be laid off, let go, or have their salaries cut. Chancellor Richard Carranza gets $345,000 a year.
And what about the re-assigned educators sitting in rubber rooms? Lucio Celli, for example. He threatened to stab to death three Judges in the Eastern District, was put into jail then let out on bail awaiting trial after being indicted by a Grand Jury. He is forbidden to use a computer or go on the internet, but the NYC Department of Education is paying him his full salary of $100,000+ to sit at home.
So much of what is going on makes no sense.
This is a lesson we all have to learn.
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials
A steep hike in the cost of permits to run extracurricular activities in city Education Department facilities is preventing out-of-school programs from opening their doors — and some are questioning the justification for the price jump.
Education Department officials tripled the cost to outside groups of using city facilities to run activities like after-school programs and sports — forcing some to jack up the fees for parents beyond what they can afford and effectively killing their chances of running sustainable programs.
Officials say the hike comes from additional cleaning costs this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but some programs are skeptical.
“I think it’s just fundamentally problematic and wrong,” said Riel Peerbooms, the executive director of Trail Blazers, a nonprofit that runs eight after-school programs in schools across Brooklyn.
Because of the fee hike, Trail Blazers had to triple its tuition prices for families — many of whom are low-income and were receiving scholarships to attend the program. Families already hurting financially from the pandemic decided they couldn’t afford the additional fees, Peerbooms said, and as a result, none of the eight Trail Blazer programs have secured enough participants to open their doors.
“We couldn’t afford the price hike. It just was not doable,” said April, a parent at P.S. 316 in Crown Heights, one of the schools where Trail Blazers had to increase tuition fees in response to the more expensive permits.
April, who asked to use only her first name to protect her family’s privacy, said that without the after-school program, her daughter is missing out on valuable time to safely socialize with friends — and her husband is losing out on time to work uninterrupted.
“They literally are family that help take care of our kids when we can’t,” April said of the Trail Blazers program. “I wish she was getting that (care) right now.”
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Critics say the price hike needlessly hampers some of the few available childcare options for working parents at a time when support for such families is already sparse.
“That just seems like exactly the opposite of what we should be doing,” said City Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn). After-school programs “are just lifesavers for working families,” he added.
The city Education Department has long charged outside organizations a fee for using school buildings outside the hours of 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to cover the costs of keeping school safety agents and custodians on the premises for extended hours.
After-school programs run by the Youth and Community Development Department and funded by the city have had those fees waived — an arrangement still in effect this school year.
But programs that aren’t city-funded are responsible this year for covering the permit costs out-of-pocket — and the Education Department abruptly tripled the price, a decision the agency attributes to the additional costs of cleaning buildings during the pandemic.
For one building where Trail Blazers operates, the price leapt from about $80 a day to $240 a day — or $43,000 for the school year — Peerbooms said.
“Disinfecting is a key tenet of our health and safety, which are critical to maintaining incredibly low positivity rates in our buildings, and disinfecting cannot occur while students are in the building," said Education Department spokesman Nathaniel Styer. "These fees are the result of the overtime personnel costs necessary to ensure the school is safely and thoroughly disinfected before the next day.”
But after-school providers argue the city is incurring the additional cleaning costs with or without their presence, and say it makes no sense to punish them for it.
Education Department guidance indicates there’s no additional cleaning happening between the end of the traditional school day and the start of the after-school program — meaning buildings are generally cleaned once a day whether extracurricular activities are running or not.
Peerbooms is also skeptical of the claim that after-school programs force custodians to stay in the buildings longer than they would otherwise, thereby racking up additional overtime fees. He said all of the principals he’s spoken to say they aren’t able to start cleaning until 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. even when after-school programs aren’t running, because students and staff linger in the building.
An Education Department said that’s “not true ... We encourage all employees to leave buildings around 3 p.m., compared to 6 p.m. for extended use.”
Regardless of the justification, the price hike has proved an insurmountable obstacle for programs like Trail Blazers. Even if some families can pony up the extra funds, the programs need to reach a critical mass of sign-ups to open, and Peerbooms said his programs are still far from that goal.
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Officials didn’t specify how many programs have had to shutter because of the permit fee hikes, but the cost increase isn’t only affecting after-school programs. Success Academy, the city’s largest charter network, said it was staring at a $500,000 fee to use a city-owned field for soccer practice because of the increased extended use fee (ultimately the network was barred from using the field altogether).
Lander said the steep price hike feels like the city’s way of "trying to close a budget gap. Like, ‘what could we do to raise more revenue?’”
But Peerbooms noted the irony of price hikes being so steep that programs like his couldn’t even open their doors — and they’re now paying the city nothing at all.
“I understand we all need to look for money,” Peerbooms said. But forcing programs like his to shutter, he said, is “entirely unacceptable.”