Vacca proposes tech grants for private schools

Principal Carole Arbolino of St. Benedict School (right) works with student Adam Bilosi in the school’s computer lab. Using church funds and private donations, most Catholic schools have been able to open computer labs. Photo by Victor Chu

Councilman Jimmy Vacca held out hope that Mayor Bloomberg would change budget rules forbidding members of the City Council from allocating discretionary funds for technology improvements at Catholic and private schools.

Vacca expressed the opinion that technology grants to Catholic and other private schools using public funds should be allowed so long as the improvements do not directly serve a religious function.

He called the mayor and Speaker Quinn on March 5, along with several others City Councilmembers, to change the rules governing member allocations which he said could pay for more computer labs and SMART-board electronic chalkboard technology in the city’s extensive network of Catholic and private schools.

“With the survival of our parochial school system at stake, I see no reason why our city would not want to support funding for clearly academic and non-religious capital improvements,” Vacca said.

While many in Catholic and private education welcome the support to their own programs, many think that it is unlikely that such grants will come to fruition.

“I welcome the news about the possibility, however remote, of technology grants to Catholic schools,” said Monsignor Donald Dwyer, pastor of Our Lady of Assumption church and school and Vicar of the East Bronx. “It is only fair that children enrolled in a Catholic school be eligible for consideration of funding to improve or maintain our technology centers. Our students are city residents – why should they be treated as second class citizens?”

Dwyer went on to say that he is not counting on the support of the city council or any other outside body to help Catholic schools, though he appreciates Vacca’s support on this issue.

“At Our Lady of Assumption School, we have a first-rate computer center with a full-time teacher,” Dwyer said. “Unfortunately, some other private schools are not as blessed. I appreciate Councilman Vacca’s leadership on this issue, but I am not banking on it going through.”

Since entering the council in 2006, Vacca has secured over $3.8 million in discretionary funds for improvements to schools, with more than half going toward technology improvements, including the installation of computer rooms and SMART-boards.

“I am willing to make allocations to struggling private and parochial schools in my district, but I need the city to clear the way and remove the obstacles that now exist,” Vacca said. “The future of our city depends on today’s children mastering the skills of tomorrow, and it is our responsibility to make sure all of our city’s schoolchildren have the greatest opportunity to succeed.”

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