Borough Park

Guild holds rally to save early childhood program

Leaders say tuition too low to sustain pre-school

December 10, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Paul Cassone (left), executive director and CEO of the Guild for Exceptional Children, says the Guild has no choice but to close its early childhood program. He is pictured in a photo taken last year with Councilmember Vincent Gentile, former councilmember Domenic Recchia, and Guild Vice President Anthony Cetta (left to right). Eagle photo by Paula Katinas
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Low tuition would be a dream for most parents sending their children to a private school. But at the Guild for Exceptional Children, low tuition rates are actually endangering a popular pre-school program.

Guild officials recently announced that the Carrie Mastronardi Early Childhood Education Program, which the Guild has been operating for 40 years, will close on Jan. 23 unless New York State steps in to save it.

The Mastronardi program, which operates out of a building at 1273 57th St. in Borough Park, serves developmentally disabled children between the ages of two and a half to five. There are currently 242 children enrolled in the program. Classes are conducted in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish, a reflection of the diverse backgrounds of the students.

Parents of special needs children held a rally on Dec. 10 to protest the closing of the pre-school.

The rally was not aimed at the Guild, but rather at the New York State Department of Education, according to organizers. The protest took place outside the department’s Brooklyn district office at 55 Hanson Place on Wednesday morning.

Paul Cassone, executive director and CEO of the Guild, said the Department of Education set an unrealistically low tuition rate for the Mastronardi program and as a result, the Guild has experienced nearly $2 million in losses over the past three years.  

“The New York State Department of Education has frozen tuition for six years. This has caused the preschool to suffer unsustainable fiscal losses that would jeopardize the entire organization if not stopped,” he said.

The Guild, which was founded in the late 1950s by a group of parents of developmentally disabled children in Bay Ridge, offers programs for clients from childhood to adulthood. The Guild sponsors housing, education, vocational training and recreational programs for its clients. The organization’s main headquarters is located at 260 68th St. in Bay Ridge.

If the Guild does not get tuition relief, and soon, other programs the organization runs could be endangered, according to Cassone.

Still, Cassone said he does not want to close the Mastronardi program. “The Guild is taking this measure with extreme sadness, as we have been a pioneer in the early childhood education movement, providing services to infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities since the 1960s.”

The state’s Department of Education has notified the Guild that the department is seeking certified preschool providers to submit proposals to take over the early childhood program. If it comes to that, Guild officials said they hope that the children currently being served at the site will be able to remain there.

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