The kids have become a bunch of pawns.

A taxpayer-funded nonprofit that teaches chess to city kids — and whose administrative kings and queens earn six-figure salaries — is demanding that poor public schools ante up thousands of dollars to keep the program.

And it’s no longer giving out free chess sets — or even pencils.

Earlier this month, Gov. Paterson quietly bestowed Chess-in-the-Schools with a $500,000 infusion from a pot of discretionary money he controls.

The organization’s ex-chairman, philanthropist Lewis Cullman, is a major Paterson donor, having given $12,000 since 2009.




Despite the recent windfall and a $7.7 million endowment, the group is still crying poverty, and has shifted the cost burden on poor schools and children instead of cutting back on high-paid administrators or giving up its swanky Midtown office.

Last fall the program demanded that schools ante up $2,500 to participate. For nearly 25 years, the program had been free for elementary and middle-school students.

“It was very upsetting,” said Maryann Manzolillo, principal of IS 162 in The Bronx, which had to drop the program after years of instruction. “The kids love it. We hope they get more funding.”

The squeeze kept coming. The organization stopped handing out workbooks and chess sets to many of the students to take home.

A plastic chess set retails for $8.90 on That’s a lot less than the $234,000 that Chess-in-the-Schools executive director Marley Kaplan pulls down.

Even pencils used to record chess moves during tournaments were withdrawn, said Chris Kerrigan, a former instructor.

“The thrust of all the cuts have been towards the kids and the programs,” said Kerrigan, of The Bronx. “It wasn’t cutting vice presidents.”

The group’s spokesman, David Chauvin, said: “It was a simple necessity of the economic times.”