Capital NY: Fariña hints at a deal on city’s summer programs

By Sally Goldenberg and Eliza Shapiro

3:03 p.m. | May. 28, 2015

More than 100 parents, politicians and activists rallied Thursday on the steps of City Hall to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed cuts in summer programs for children.

Holding signs and wearing T-shirts with slogans like “Give it Back” and “Keep Your Promise,” the group called on the mayor to restore the money.

“We have a mayor … who has shown extraordinary commitment over the last year to children and families through his pre-K initiative, through his expansion of after school programs for middle-school students. So a cut to summer programs makes absolutely no sense and we call upon the mayor to right the wrong, to take this mistake off the table and make sure that up to 40,000 children have an option for summer camp,” Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, said at the start of the rally.

The Campaign for Children, a coalition of social service groups that organized the protest, has railed against what advocates say was a last-minute decision to yank funding for summer programs that affect as many as 40,000 children.

At a City Council hearing on Thursday, Ray Orlando, chief financial officer for the Department of Education, said the funds cut from summer camp will pay for other other summer programs at the low-performing “Renewal Schools.”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who testified at the hearing, hinted at a pending deal on the summer school funding.

“I think you’ll see resolutions soon,” she said in response to a barrage of criticism from finance committee chairwoman Julissa Ferreras.

“This is not what we stand for and we don’t want to negotiate in this fashion,” Ferreras said. “This was just dropped on our lap during the executive budget. We have no answers to give our constituents. We are not happy—that’s an understatement actually.”

Thirty-one Council members have signed a letter calling for the funds to be restored.

A spokeswoman for the Campaign for Children, Emma Woods, said the proposed budget cut equals an average of $600 per child, but the organization does not know the precise amount of the total cut

One of the issues raised at the rally was that the programs enrolled children they knew they would not get enough city money to operate, leaving parents in the lurch.

“Parents who decided to rely on these summer activities are furious today. Providers who hired staff on the basis of the  city’s commitments—well, they’re not a whole lot happier either,” Councilman Dan Garodnick said.

“There simply isn’t time to get high-quality summer programming up and running elsewhere and the people who are hit by that are the up to 40,000 kids who may lose their slots,” he said later.

Many of the speakers praised de Blasio, even though they were protesting his budget decision. And they often hinted at a pending resolution.

“I believe that the mayor is listening, and I believe that the mayor will do everything possible to provide the resources necessary for the young people to have a safe place where they can go during the summer while their parents will be working,” Councilman Mathieu Eugene said.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said, “The executive budget ensures that much-needed services are available to high-need students at 130 struggling schools. Free summer enrichment programs continue to be available in all boroughs.”

She also urged anyone with questions about summer programs for children to call 311 or visit the city website for neighborhood-specific information.

“This administration has made after school expansion a priority and we’ll continue to work to make comprehensive after school opportunities available to all students,” she said.

The mayor’s Fiscal Year 2016 executive budget, which takes effect July 1, maintains funding for 17,000 middle-school summer seats that were in place before an expansion of the program last year, a city official said. The city is also funding 39,000 summer seats in elemetary schools, the official said.

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