A local early childhood education program, long struggling with financial issues, is turning towards alternative methods to support itself.
To address some of its budget problems, the Bloomingdale Family Program, an official Head Start program which provides educational day care and pre-school for 180 three- and four-year-olds from low income families, is considering renting its space out for birthday parties.
The program's financial struggles are nothing new. It temporarily shuttered its location on West 107th Street in November 2012 when then-Comptroller John Liu and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg were slow to approve a $380,000 grant, even though the City Council had signed off on it.
Now, the program, which has two locations on 107th Street and 109th Street, both between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, is having difficulties making ends meet as its most recent grant money dries up.
“We're struggling,” said Marilyn Barnwell, the program director of education at the school's 107th Street location. “We have a grant from City Council that's up on June 30, and we'll have to write a new grant when that one is up.”
According to Sandra Roche, the chair of the Bloomingdale board, the program is in the early stages of advertising itself for party planning. She said that they are hoping to expand the space for use by other educational programs, which could provide further revenue, but that those plans are still in the early stages.
“Our facilities are only used during the week and during the day,” Roche said. “They could be used for evening classes, parent-child classes, or multicultural programs.”
For now, Roche said, they're focused on birthday parties. The first party was held in early December.
“We decided to start with birthday parties because it seemed straightforward,” Roche said.
For a party for 12, catered with pizza, cake, and activities, Bloomingdale will charge between $600 and $800. Roche said those prices are in keeping with the rates offered by other party planning businesses.
There are income thresholds set by the Federal Poverty Guidelines that determine the maximum income a family can earn in order to have their children admitted. For a family of three people, for example, the maximum income is $19,530.
“The community we serve is a poverty community,” Roche said. “We're looking for more affluent families who can afford to have a birthday party catered, while also having the knowledge that the revenue will support a program for families and children in need.”
The program received a $15,000 grant from the Elizabeth and Barets O. Benjamin Charitable Foundation for seed money. But, with many changes happening around the city, the directors are not sure what to expect next.
“We don't know how universal pre-K will affect everything,” Barnwell said in reference to the plan Mayor Bill de Blasio has been pushing in Albany. The mayor's plan has drawn attention because of his insistence on increasing taxes for the wealthiest New Yorkers to provide a free, universal pre-school program.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has provided a major obstacle to the initiative by rejecting the tax hike, instead proposing a state-funded pre-k program that would not require a rise in taxes. State Senate co-leader Dean Skelos has also stated that he will not bring de Blasio's tax proposal to a vote.
Regardless of what goes on in the rest of the state, the people at Bloomingdale know that they will need to find their own resources.
“We think we know a lot about children, and we would love to offer these parties for many kids in the community.”
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