By Jon Gerberg
More than 500 parents and students in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, gathered for a town hall meeting March 4 at Intermediate School 171 in order to voice their concerns over the city and state’s pending budget cuts that threaten education and human services.
The event — unrelated to the National Day of Action to Defend Education, which saw thousands of American students demonstrating nationwide on the same day — was the second of its kind in this neighborhood, organized by a number of community groups including Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (LDC).
Among chants of “No more budget cuts!” participants expressed fears of what effects a looming round of heavy budget cuts would have on the community.
“We always knew this was going to be a bad budget season,” said Rob Abbot, director of youth and family services for Cypress Hills LDC, “but this year is really cutting into our essential services.”
Governor David Paterson’s proposed 2010-11 budget, which attempts to levy a $7.4 billion deficit, could include $828 million of cuts directly to New York City programs, $469 million to school aid alone. In Cypress Hills, those cuts will be felt hard with a possible elimination of childcare, employment and benefits programs, as well as drastic cuts educational and housing aid.
Many parents expressed concern that their children, without summer camp and afterschool programs, would be left subject to the dangerous influences of a neighborhood plagued with high crime-rate and gang activity.
New York State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan (D-Brooklyn), who attended the town hall, said that he was impressed and “pushed to fight harder” for these community members.
“What they say is correct,” Dilan said. “If these families are deprived of education, we are going to see a lot more young people who instead of going to college will be going to jails.”
A number of representatives for Cypress Hills’ elected officials attended the event to hear first-hand the community’s grievances.
Adults here also feared cuts to their own social programs. Cypress Hills, a heavily immigrant community, is facing the complete elimination of its Immigrant Services and Adult Literacy program which would have devastating effects on the entire community.
“This is not just about Adult Education,” said Kent Katner, adult education director at Cypress Hills LDC, “These are leaders of the community. We teach them E.S.L., but we also teach healthcare, taxes and the tools to be better members of the community.”
But there was no deficit of communal energy last night in that rumbling Brooklyn cafeteria. A pasta dinner was served and young students danced and chanted in demonstration, while the adults pled heartfelt cases for continued funding.
“When you invest in education you invest in the community,” said Saturnina Ortiz, an adult student of the Cypress Hills Adult Education program, to the clamoring crowd. “Help us become better citizens, and we will help make this a better city.”