In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the cost of cupcakes at PS 295 doubled last October from 50 cents to one dollar each, at the monthly PTA bake sale. This seemingly innocent step which was done in order to help raise more money for the school had the unexpected effect of provoking a battle among parents which has been labeled the “Cupcake Wars.”
The dispute reflects the fact that the neighborhood is quickly changing its demographics as wealthier families are moving into the once lower middle class area. In the ten years from 2000 to 2010 the median income in Sunset Park almost doubled from $34,878 to $64,184. New families with more income are coming into conflict with the long-time residents who, on average, have lower incomes. As Kyle Spencer of the New York Times put it, the new price for a cupcake,
“generated unexpected ire, pitting cash-short parents against volunteer bakers, and dividing a flummoxed PTA executive board, where wealthier newcomers to the school serve alongside poorer immigrants who have called the area home for years.”
One parent at the PTA meeting said she was distressed at the surprise decision, and was “worried about those at school without a dollar to spare.”
Other Neighborhoods Facing Same Problems
Similar disputes are playing themselves out in other Brooklyn neighborhoods. In Clinton Hill the planning meeting for the annual auction at PS 11 created angry feelings between many parents. Not so long ago PS 11 could barely attract students; and the number of students who qualified for free or reduced price lunches was 86 percent. Today the demographics are quickly changing as young couples buy up new condos and brownstones in neighboring Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. The number of students getting free lunches is today down to 67 percent.
According to Spencer: “During the planning of the auction, there were accusations of elitism, racism and defeatism, as newcomers and longtime residents debated” on the type of auction they should hold. Should auction items be listed on-line even though many families don’t have home computers? Should the auction be more relaxed serving all-you-can-drink rum punch, or should it be more elegant, serving donated wine?
“There has been so much distrust and resentment,” said Eva Marie Arena, who was the chairwoman of the fundraising committee until she stepped down due to ‘burnout’ and has two children in the school. “There is this idea that we have come into this place that has been one way for so long, and we are bringing with us all our fancy ideas.”
Uneasy Peace Established
Back at PS 295 the cupcake wars seem to have died down a bit. A negotiated settlement was reached in which, all though the price of each cupcake is still $1, now, according to the school bulletin, the price is just a “Suggested donation.”