Seven Nassau school district superintendents called on county lawmakers Tuesday to restore an $8 million cut from youth programs in July.
At a news conference held at the Gateway Youth Outreach Center in Elmont, superintendents from Long Beach, Mineola, Elmont, Great Neck and Westbury, and the assistant superintendents of Massapequa and Uniondale spoke about the impact of the cuts on after-school programs.
"We're left with a tremendous amount of latchkey kids," said Al Harper, superintendent of the Elmont School District. "Who knows where these children are?"
More than 800 Elmont youths once attended the Gateway Youth Outreach Center, but the cuts meant the center had to scale back to 100 students this school year, said Pat Boyle, the center's executive director.
While youth advocates, community activists and religious leaders have been rallying for months for a restoration, this marks the first organized push by education leaders.
"I cannot tell you how important it is to have these after-school programs and counseling available," said Mary A. Lagnado, superintendent of Westbury. "With our dwindling funds, the tax cap, loss of state aid, it would be devastating to lose the services."
Funding to more than 40 community agencies that provide after-school programs, drug rehabilitation services and counseling was cut in July, caught up in a partisan battle over county borrowing and redistricting.
County Executive Edward Mangano has said the funds were needed to pay for $40 million in tax refunds owed to commercial property owners. Mangano wanted to pay for the refunds by borrowing, but has failed to get the necessary votes from Democrats to get bonding approved. Democrats have said they have concerns about borrowing to finance the refunds, and are using the votes as leverage in redistricting negotiations.
The advocates for funding the youth programs have long maintained the money should have gone untouched, because they were promised funding by county lawmakers through the county's red light camera fund, in return for lobbying state legislators in 2008 to approve the cameras.