Long Island school district leaders call on NC to restore $8 million in funding
Local school district superintendents on Tuesday, Oct. 2 called on Nassau County to restore youth and family programs that were cut or eliminated from the county budget on July 5. Representatives from Elmont, Great Neck, Long Beach, Massapequa, Mineola, Uniondale and Westbury protested the decision to slash nearly $8 million in program funding that went to counseling, tutoring, crisis intervention, after school programs, among other areas.
These programs were the victim of the ongoing tug-of-war between party lines in the county concerning borrowing and redistricting. Organizations across Nassau County, like the Gateway Youth Outreach in Elmont and Mineola Youth and Family Services in Mineola were blindsided when the cut came down three months ago.
The New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) sent a letter to Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano and the entire county legislature on Sept. 28, in support of restoring the programs. NYSAN Executive Director Nora Niedzielski said the programs, “allow parents to work without worrying about their children’s health, development and safety and [the programs] reduce juvenile crime,” the letter read.
Local school and community leaders agreed. Coalition of Nassau County Youth Agencies President Peter Levy feels the programs were the victim of political struggles in the county.
“We cannot be used as pawns in political games,” he said. “School superintendents are well aware of the negative impact on their school communities due to the loss of vital services provided to their students and we appreciate their partnership in this campaign.”
According to GYO Director Pat Boyle, about 800 Elmont youths once attended the Gateway Youth Outreach Center, but county cuts made the center scale back to 100 students in 2012. The center opened in 1983 as EYO, but later changed to GYO in 1998.
“We’re left with a tremendous amount of latchkey kids,” said Al Harper, superintendent of the Elmont School District (ESD), which enrolls about 3,700 students. “Who knows where these children are?”
The ESD faced the possibility of a complete failed budget last June, after it failed at the polls on May 15. The district needed 60 percent of voter approval to pass the budget, which it attained on June 19.
“Elmont is a vibrant, working class community,” Harper said. “Parents sometimes put in long hours at work in order to pay bills and survive in this economy. Gateway Youth Outreach provides afterschool care for our children. Parents were left without afterschool childcare. This was very unfair to take away at the last minute. We need this type of support for our children.”
Activists, youth organizations and local community fixtures have been pleading for a restoration of funds since the summer, but this marks the first time school heads have banded together to force the issue. The educators were lobbying for a specific area or program, but had one common goal.
“I came here to support Mineola Youth and Family Services,” Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler said. “To speak pragmatically, we understand that we all have to produce budgets. In our budgets we try to make sure we understand all the consequences of our reductions. In this case, 38 youth and family service programs in one pen stroke affects a lot of kids in a lot of communities. It is great to have another place for kids to go to when we can’t provide the service. There’s no dollar amount that will speak to the value of that as a society.”
Executive Director of Mineola Youth and Family Services Cristina Balbo is still working with local youth, without pay, on her own time, for the good of the children. She said, “Our agency is basically closed. However, I still volunteer my time with no pay, along with two or three volunteers from the agency to keep the clients safe.”
Balbo is hoping the funding gets restored. She recently met with Nassau County Legislator Rich Nicolello and State Senator Jack Martins to discuss the program cuts.
“Does anyone have an understanding that these agencies are not going to be around?” Balbo stated.
“To wipe out all of them, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Nagler stated.