Bay Ridge

Excellence without equity: Community-based pre-Ks feel shortchanged by DOE

April 10, 2019 John Alexander
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis (second row, third from left) and Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool Director Alice Mulligan (front, left) with directors and educators of community based Pre-Ks. Eagle photo by John Alexander
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Pre-K for all? Not so, say a group of teachers and administrators who allege that the city shorts the programs run by community-based organizations — especially compared with the generosity it shows toward similar programs run inside public schools.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who serves on the State Assembly Education Committee, concurs. To show her support for the CBOs, she held a press conference addressing a gym full of school administrators, teachers, parents and CBO providers at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool on April 5.

Related: Universal pre-K expansion threatens critical partnership, school directors say

Malliotakis said she was especially concerned when she learned that the average cost per child, which has not seen an increase in seven years, will remain stagnant for another eight years.

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According to the assemblymember, the average cost per child in a community-based pre-K is $11,000. In a DOE-run school, it is over $30,000.

“In some cases, these CBOs are being threatened with closure because there is an oversaturation of pre-Ks throughout the city — and in particular in certain communities — and District 20 is one of those communities here in southwest Brooklyn,” said Malliotakis, a Republican who represents parts of Bay Ridge and Staten Island.

“The city under Mayor [Bill] de Blasio has spent millions of dollars in creating thousands of pre-K seats, and what’s happening now is that community-based organizations, like the one that we are in, are seeing enrollment being reduced. They’re finding it difficult to make payroll, keep the lights on and pay the rent,” she went on.

“You don’t need to spend millions in taxpayer money to create more seats in a department of education pre-K center when you have great community-based organizations that are contracted with the city to provide those services,” Malliotakis added.

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool has been in operation since 1969 and is in contract with the DOE to provide pre-K services for 20 years. Alice Mulligan, the executive director at the school, said the lower salaries paid to teachers at CBO pre-K’s make it hard to retain good teachers.

“On average, a fully qualified teacher in a CBO earns $44,000,” Mulligan said, “yet her DOE counterpart with the same qualifications has a starting salary of $59,000.”

The DOE also pushes health insurance and retirement plans, she added, but “they offer no resources for these exorbitant costs.”

“Under Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education, there is no equal pay for equal work,” Mulligan said. “When the DOE needed us as their partner, we provided. When the mayor needed us to help reach his goal of serving 70,000 children, we provided. Again and again, the DOE has come to us when they needed us, and now we are being dismissed and ignored as this monopoly of education suffocates us.”

Equality for CBOs has inspired bipartisan support. Councilmember Mark Treyger, a Democrat who serves as the chair of the Council’s Committee on Education, also criticized the inequity.

“The DOE should not throw under the bus those organizations that had its back and the backs of our children when they needed them the most,” said Treyger, a former educator himself.

Jaclyn Rothenberg, a mayoral spokesperson, pointed out that while the city had “increased the pay for those teachers in the community-based organizations substantially,” the Mayor’s Office acknowledges there’s still more work to be done.

“We agree that we must do better and improve the overall parity.”

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