Citing budget crisis, DOE cuts funding for Queens College Bridge Program

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By the 2021 Editors of The Classic

In an email to The Classic, Department of Education Deputy Press Secretary Nathaniel Styer confirmed that due to the budget crisis caused by coronavirus, the DOE will not be funding the Queens College Bridge Year Program for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Mr. Styer wrote, “In the face of the severe budget crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we made the hard decision to prioritize core academics, resulting in hundreds of millions in budget cuts in the Adopted budget alone. This special allocation was unique to Townsend Harris, and, in the interest of equity, we sought to work with school leadership to find alternative means to continue funding this program within their budget if they choose to.”

Last year, the school received $671,000 to fund its partnership with Queens College. This funding is separate from the core budget the school receives. Since the school will not be receiving the additional funding this year, the administration would have to redistribute the existing school funds from the school’s core budget if they choose to continue the Queens College partnership. The DOE support staff would consult with the school on how to proceed in making such choices.

This indicates that the school would have to cut funding for other programs, find the money from another source, or work with Queens College to reduce the program’s cost. 

On Monday night, Principal Brian Condon strongly objected to any fund reduction to this program, writing, “defunding this long standing partnership is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Mr. Condon will meet with the Senior Budget Director of Queens North later today to discuss the funding of the Bridge Program. 

In a press conference held this morning, a reporter from WCBS 880 asked Mayor Bill de Blasio about the funding. The Mayor said he would check in on the situation, and said, “We want to do the best we can for our seniors, they’re going to go through a lot this year.”

In response to Mr. Condon’s email, the Townsend Harris Alumni Association (THAA) has released a statement encouraging alumni to reach out to political representatives and put pressure on the DOE to fund the program. THHS students have also expanded their efforts by launching a petition in support of the program.

In the statement, the THAA expressed their opposition to the cutting of the program, writing that the alleged decision is “not appropriate for so many reasons.” Calling for an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” the THAA provided contact information for elected officials and emphasized the urgency of the situation, urging alumni to reach out to officials before the DOE makes any announcements, and many have already responded to the call to action.

In a letter to representatives, Class of 2019 alumna Shivani Persaud wrote, “The Bridge Year Program [is allowing] me to graduate in Fall 2021 with my bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida, begin graduate school at the age of 20 due to my early graduation, [and] win scholarships to other colleges…due to the merit associated with the Bridge Year Program.” 

Similarly, Class of 2016 alum Julian De La Rosa explained that the credits offered by the program transferred over to his current college, giving him some leeway when switching majors. 

“This is [an] opportunity for the Townsend community (young and old) to band together to fight for change or against unjust actions done without the consideration of the student body,” Julian said.

“I think we were all expecting potential budget cuts in this situation but none of us expected it to be in such a direct way like eliminating the Bridge Year Program,” said Tina Chen, Class of 2020, who plans to contact elected officials. “We’ve all benefited from the QC-THHS partnership in one way or another and it would be saddening to see the next few graduating classes not be able to experience it.” 

On Tuesday evening, the Townsend Harris Student Union (SU) created a petition in order to organize support against the decision to cut the Bridge Year Program. 

In the hours following its creation, the petition has garnered over 1,600 signatures, with many students and alumni taking to social media to promote it and encourage students outside of THHS to participate.

Teachers and parents have also joined the conversation. 

Former UFT Chapter Leader and current Social Studies teacher Franco Scardino said that he agrees with Mr. Condon’s allegation that the DOE is exploiting the pandemic. Citing the controversy over principal hiring from 2017, he said, “for whatever reason(s), some officials at the DOE have historically targeted THHS.”

Mr. Scardino, a member of the school’s reopening committee, also emphasized the importance of QC classes in the programming of the whole school. He explained that with seniors spending a portion of their days programmed for Queens College courses, there is enough space in the THHS building for freshmen, sophomore, and junior classes. However, if more seniors are expected in the building during the day, he said that “finding adequate space to accommodate all students with the current program and bell schedule will be nearly impossible.” 

PTA Co-President Bill Rettig shared his concerns that the loss of the program would negatively impact both current and incoming students, as resources wold need to be redirected to substitute missing QC classes. 

“As a parent I support the QC Bridge program and recognize that we need to keep it and the [36] year tradition behind it. This program has been under threat before. It is a part of what defines us as a ‘humanities school’ and is an integral part of our identity,” he said.

The following Classic editors contributed to this reporting: Anindita Bhattacharjee, Ifeoluwa Adedokun, Ikeoluwa Adedokun, Sarah Aguiar, Ryan Eng, Julia Maciejak, Matthew Merino, Nikki Ng, Victoria Oei, Jasmine Palma, Micah Sandy, Samantha Sestak, Zeyad Shariff, Ariana Vernon, Julia Wojtkowski, Jessie Ye, Daniela Zavlun, and Nataniela Zavlun