Mayor could scrap DOE building permit fees for after school programs

A game of after school soccer at Park of the Americas between 103rd and 104th street near 41st Ave. in North Corona, Queens, Tuesday, April 21, 2015.

The City might do away with a pricey fee for after-school programs using Department of Education buildings. 

De Blasio said he would consider scrapping the charge during an interview on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” after a Park Slope woman working to set up an after school program at P.S. 38 The Pacific School in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn called in to ask how much the City planned to charge after school programs to use DOE facilities. 

“Is it still going to be exorbitantly high?” the woman, whose first name is Christine, asked. “It’s simply untenable,” Christine claimed that one Brooklyn public school received a bill of $ 259,000 on Thursday for their after-school program. 

After-school programming overseen by the New York City Department of Youth and Community services do not have to pay to use DOE buildings. But outside providers, such as Trail Blazers, a nonprofit organization that runs between six to 10 after-school programs in Brooklyn every year, are normally given a bill for using DOE space. 

Prior to the pandemic, the organization was billed about $8,000 a year to run its programs in DOE schools, according to Executive Director of Trail Blazers Riel Peerbooms. But last year, the DOE tripled the price of extended use fees for outside after-school program providers sticking Trail Blazers with a bill of $24,000. 

The price hike was largely due to increased cleaning efforts at public schools during the pandemic, according to the DOE. In the fall, cleaning costs are expected to go down due to increased knowledge about how the virus spreads and the decreasing number of new cases across the five boroughs. 

On Wednesday, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 0.69% based on a seven-day rolling average and reported 231 confirmed and potential cases of the virus on Friday. 

Despite the decreasing number of infections, de Blasio assured New York public school families there will still be a  “substantial amount of cleaning” in schools this fall but “not the same as before” this fall in order to keep students and teachers safe. 

The caller then urged the mayor to encourage the DOE to waive the fee altogether regardless of who is running the after-school programming. “We simply can’t have parent’s going back to work full time in office buildings and getting the city back to normal if we don’t have childcare in after-school programs for our families,” she said. 

De Blasio promised to look into waiving the fee. ” I can see an argument for that I could also see some problems from that, let me see what we can do,” de Blasio added. 

Some after-school providers are growing increasingly impatient with the City’s lack of clarity on the status of the fees. A group of 10 after-school program providers sent a letter to the mayor as well as Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter urging officials to stop charging after-school providers to use DOE buildings before 6:00 p.m.

“Prior to the pandemic, DOE practice was to not charge nonprofit after-school providers for permits for programs until 6:00 p.m. The agreement on this practice dates back to at least the Dinkins administration and was implemented in an effort to provide after-school programs for the families of New York City,” the letter reads. “If the DOE does not immediately resume this practice, program providers will have no choice but to pass these costs on to families, who are ill-positioned to absorb such a burden, or to cancel programs entirely.”

Peerbooms, who is also one of the letter’s co-signers, also believes removing the permit fees is essential to New York City’s full reopening given how many parents use after-school programs as a form of daycare for their children. 

“If there is any hope to return to normal that the after-school programming system has to fire on all cylinders,” Peerbooms said. 

In response to questions from amNewYork Metro on the status of the fees, DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer said, “providing all of our students with enriching programming during and after school is a critical part of full opening this fall, and we are evaluating fees based on updated CDC guidance related to cleaning and disinfecting and will soon share updates with schools.”  

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