NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is raising concerns about possible safety problems with some of the sites slated to be used for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature prekindergarten program.
Stringer says the mayor’s office is far behind schedule in submitting contracts with pre-K providers for review by the comptroller’s office.
He said only 141 of more than 500 contracts have been submitted, though school starts in just eight days for 50,000 pre-K students.
Stringer said failure to submit the contracts prevents his office from doing safety checks.
Among the contracts that have been reviewed, Stringer said his office has uncovered significant problems. One vendor, for example, had a former employee who was charged with conspiracy to commit child pornography, the comptroller said. Another vendor had six violations for not having workers screened with the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Mistreatment.
“Universal Pre-K holds the promise of transforming our City’s educational process, which is why we have to get it right,” Stringer said in a news release. “But we cannot sacrifice safety in the name of expediency.”
A mayoral spokesman said it’s normal for some contracts to be submitted after school starts. And he insists that the pre-K sites and employees have been vetted.
Stringer said that children will still be able to go to pre-K on time, despite the contract problem.
“I was assured by the mayor that pre-K sites that may not be registered with our office are getting a very good once-over by the Department of Investigation, the fire department and the like,” he said.
De Blasio made the establishment of universal prekindergarten — which a top aide called one of the biggest government undertakings in the city’s history — the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign a year ago.
Stringer praised de Blasio on his universal pre-k initiative saying, “I think this is an incredibly important initiative. I stood by him in Albany and throughout this process. But now, we have to come together with the mayor to make sure these contracts are registered and we do our due diligence.”
The city is using 600 Department of Education sites for classrooms, but since public school buildings don’t have the space to accommodate the new students, more than 1,100 community-based organizations — such as day cares and religious schools — will also host the programs.
The speedy rollout — New York is trying to do in months what smaller cities such as Boston did in years — has worried some education advocates. Fears include community-based organizations having unsafe classroom spaces, rookie teachers being ill-prepared to deal with needy 4-year-olds and scores of religious institutions hosting secular classrooms.
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