A West Harlem public school supported by Teachers College is asking its families to pay more for after-school programs.
Some parents say the cost for daily programs is too expensive for the low-income community served by Teachers College Community School, which was built as part of the benefits package Columbia promised to the West Harlem community in the wake of its Manhattanville expansion.
Last year, TC funded daily after-school programming for students at TCCS, on Morningside Avenue between 126th and 127th streets, without charging parents.
This year, parents can choose to pay $1,800 per child per year for daily after-school programming that runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., or choose a free option that runs only three days a week from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Families who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch receive a discounted rate of $900 per child per year for the paid option.
But parents say that even the discount is a lot, and the free option with three-day-a-week programming isn’t feasible for working families.
In the Community Benefits Agreement it signed in May 2009, the University committed $30 million from Columbia and TC to develop and support the school, which opened in September 2011 and moved to its permanent home last year. The CBA and the General Project Plan, an earlier document, state that the school should provide after-school programming.
At a Community Board 9 Youth, Education, and Libraries Committee meeting last week, board members expressed skepticism over the affordability of the programming and the general financial health of the school, which currently enrolls kindergarten, first, and second grade students.
“Our student population, our family demographics are not one that could support these options,” committee member Sonja Jones said at the meeting.
And by separating students into two groups based on who can and can’t afford the more paid program, Jones said, “there’s a social and emotional ramification. These kids are not going to understand why they can’t be with their friends.”
“I don’t understand what the business plan is for your after-school program,” CB9 member Judith Insell said, adding that it seems like “you’re kind of making it up as you go along.”
The city Department of Education doesn’t fund after-school programs, so financial backing usually comes from parents or outside sources.
Nancy Streim, TC’s associate vice president for school and community partnerships, told the CB9 committee that while TC covered the full cost of after-school programs last year, “that’s not going to be sustainable.”
“If we want to be able to provide this for all of the children, there has to be a way to pay for it,” she said.
The after-school programs, which begin at the end of September, include classes and activities like science, nutrition, dance, and music. The paid option also includes physical education and visual or performing arts classes.
TCCS will partner with the Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation, one of the largest after-school programming companies in New York, to put on the programs.
Streim said the school had compared proposals with half a dozen organizations, which had higher costs or lower quality programming.
While some committee members suggested using TC students to staff the programs, Streim pointed out, “students in graduate school need to be paid.”
“We explore all options,” she said.
Quintin Fields, who was picking his daughter up at the school on Friday, said that having programs only three days a week “doesn't work for a lot of people.”
Fields said his daughter enjoyed programs like nutrition classes and yoga, which are currently offered after school for free.
While “we have people here that have nannies,” Fields said, he predicted that “the working class people” in the school’s community are going to “suffer the most.”
“When we first started, we were told that after-school would be free,” said first-grade parent Rob Sulkow, which seemed like a “dream come true” to him and his wife.
“We didn't think to say, ‘Is this sustainable?’” he said. As enrollment increases, he said, “I don't expect the school to be babysitters.”
At the same time, the price TCCS is asking is a “really a big deal” for some parents, he said.
Other parents were more understanding.
“I think it's a great service,” said Brad Kindred, grandfather of students at the school. “You have to pay anyway” for babysitters or other after-school supervision, he said.
Other CB9 members said they doubted the broader financial strength of the school.
“I’m not seeing a commitment by the WHDC, elected officials, or philosophical organizations to undergird the sustainability of the school,” said CB9 member Vicky Gholson, referring to the West Harlem Development Corporation, which is responsible for dispensing benefits promised by Columbia.
The CB9 committee plans to meet with the WHDC next month specifically about the after-school programs.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sonja Jones is a TCCS parent. Spectator regrets the error.