Principal Bob Bender of the William T. Harris School, PS11, surveyed the craft vendors, jumping castles and bake sale booths, aware of a sad truth: parent fundraising is the only way he sees to guarantee the survival of the school’s arts programs. “The bottom line is we need more money,” said Bender. “They are paying for many of the programs that the school was once able to afford,” said Stephen McGill, PS11’s Parent Coordinator.
Facing a $300,000 budget deficit for 2011-2012 as a result of budget cuts, and as a part of a financially strapped New York City system that recently lost 672 school employees, PS11 depends on its PTA to work harder than ever to keep their art and enrichment programs alive.
To that end, Deb Klein organized the recent Chelsea Craft Festival, which took place on the doorstep of PS11 at West 21st Street. She said that 40 per cent of the money from the festival would go to PS11’s PTA, totaling $4300; Klein, who has experience with a range of festivals including the Brooklyn Craft Central Markets, curated the over-100 vendors who participated.
Co-Treasurer of the PTA Fran Genesi expected that the festival would bring in $15,000 to $20,000 in total, including revenues from non-craft booths. The money will be spent on after-school art programs and supplies, but not teachers’ wages.
Parents predict dire consequences if arts education disappears. “It makes an individual well-rounded. Will he become a dancer? No, but he gets into the movement and activity,” said Elinor Johnston, parent of a PS11 third-grader and member of the executive board of the PTA.
Although Bender said that Chelsea’s Community Board 4 reached out to PS11 for the first time this year, plans for collaboration are still in their early stages.
City Council’s Speaker and District 3 Councilperson Christine Quinn has provided ongoing support, Bender said, including financial support of chess programs and plans to give the school a library.
Parents AJ Vincent and Tracy O’Niell, who both have first graders at PS11, created a cookbook in an effort to raise money for the school. Alan and Kathy Ellman, also parents, founded “Justschoolit.com,” a website that mimics a hyper-local version of “Groupon.com,” offering discounts at local businesses, including restaurants and stores, with selected coupons sending 100 per cent of the proceeds directly to PS11.
The Chelsea Craft Fall Festival was backed by local vendors like Lineposters co-founder John Breznicky, who prints graphics of metropolitan railway networks in major U.S. cities, who said, “this is a great neighborhood and we enjoy supporting something that’s in our community.” And jewelry designer Stephanie Maslow, whose son Asher who is a first-grader at PS11, also had a booth at the craft festivals, and said, “The school is known for offering enrichment programs to all of the students in dance, art, sciences, computers, so every bit of money we can raise helps these programs survive.”
The Department of Education declined on comment on PS11’s ongoing efforts by their PTA to raise funds as a result of budget cuts to public schools across New York.