You gotta pay to play, kids

Alisa Roth May 7, 2007

You gotta pay to play, kids

Alisa Roth May 7, 2007


BOB MOON: Earlier this year, New York City signed a novel deal with 20 elite private schools. The schools would pay more than $52 million over the next 20 years to help revitalize Randall’s Island, a decrepit park on an island in the East River. In exchange, the schools have first dibs for prime time on most of the island’s ball fields: weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. Proponents of the deal say it’s a model for public-private partnership that’ll benefit all city kids. Critics say the deal has shut out low-income kids from the neighborhood that would most benefit from outdoor space. Alisa Roth has more.

ALISA ROTH: Adouin Rodriguez is a junior at a public high school in the South Bronx. He plays second base and is the unofficial spokesman for the school’s baseball team, the Cyclones.

The team practiced on Randall’s Island last year and it’s still waiting to hear about a permit to use the park again.

Rodriguez worries the city’s agreement will shut his team out of Randall’s Island this year. For now, they’re practicing on a scruffy field in the South Bronx.

ADOUIN RODRIGUEZ: It feels like they’re pushing us out just so the students that already got the upper hand, you know what I’m saying, who probably have better stuff at their school, who have a team already, have their uniforms are in a league. They’re not giving us a chance.

Not so, says Richard Davis, head of the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, the organization that came up with the deal to fix up the island.

RICHARD DAVIS: It was always, always critical that we demonstrate that there would be increased — and meaningfully increased — use for public schools during the week and everybody else on the weekends and in the summer.

Davis says public schools will ultimately benefit at least as much as private ones, since the project will up the total number of usable fields on the island.

But Marina Ortiz doesn’t buy it. She’s a community activist in East Harlem, a neighborhood she and other opponents of the deal say isn’t getting an equal shot at using the Island’s fields.

MARINA ORTIZ: They make no effort to outreach and provide information to East Harlem organizations on the permitting process, for example, letting people know that there are baseball and other fields available for weekend, after school, summer use.

Ortiz wonders why city schools weren’t offered a chance to get in on the public-private partnership. She says her community could’ve raised the money private schools are paying to refurbish the fields.

Davis disagrees. He says that without an obvious constituency of wealthy neighbors, raising money for Randall’s Island has been a hard sell and this is the only solution that could work. He thinks these kinds of deals are the future of parks funding in the city.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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