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Queens Chronicle

Deadline looms for city pre-K schools

‘They just want all the kids,’ says early-ed provider of DOE contract

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 1:08 pm, Thu Jun 13, 2019.

The push to overhaul the way the city pays pre-K and other early-education facilities takes a big step next week.

Providers — many of them based in churches and synagogues — are required to submit bids to the Department of Education by next Thursday to remain in the network of schools that have been offering Universal Pre-K classes to 4-year-olds since Mayor de Blasio established it in 2015.

The operators of private schools, who make up the majority of facilities offering free pre-K, are deeply concerned that the changes will put them out of business.

Until now, administering the pre-K system — including paying the schools — was handled by the Administration for Children’s Services. Starting next fall, the Department of Education will take over running it.

In the meantime, the DOE is expanding rapidly its programs for preschoolers, opening scores of early learning centers — four in South Queens alone this fall — and adding pre-K classes to existing public schools.

At the heart of the dispute is the growing belief among private school providers that the city is quietly moving to push them out.

“They run our programs as it is now — socials workers who come in, money, assessment tools, paperwork,” said Brett Shampaner, the second-generation owner of The Little School, a private school in Middle Village.

“It’s not like we’re running wild. They just want all the kids,” he said.

The private providers are banding together for the first time to negotiate with the city over payment in the upcoming contract.

Late last month, the group CBOs for Equity — CBO is an abbreviation for community-based organization — wrote an impassioned letter to Mayor de Blasio to remember that it was small, nonpublic school operators like theirs that carried his Pre-K for All program in its initial years.

More than 50 schools signed the letter including Little Friends Schools in Elmhurst and Sunnyside, St. Albans Montessori Academy of Learning, Jackson Heights Early Learning Center, Corona Friends School and The Learning Tree.

“The outcomes of negotiations [for new contracts] will have a critical and far reaching impact on low resourced communities,” the letter read. “In many cases, the impact determines if our doors remain open for free Pre-K.”

Among the group’s complaints are that the contracts:

• make no provision for increases over the five-year life of the agreements;

• do not provide a minimum payment so that schools, which are paid on a per-pupil basis, can cover basic costs like salaries and rents even if they lose students during the year; and

• are not enough for pay parity for private pre-K teachers with those in public schools.

Alice Mulligan, a Brooklyn pre-K administrator who spearheads CBOs for Equity, said its complaints pushed the DOE to extend the filing deadline by two weeks in order to modify some of the contract’s provisions.

“Happily, we have made some headway in rapport building,” she said. “They understand now that we can’t survive back-to-back years of deficits.”

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