NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted Thursday that universal prekindergarten sites set to open next week are being thoroughly vetted for safety.
The mayor’s remarks came a day after city Comptroller Scott Stringer said the mayor’s office has submitted to him just 141 of more than 500 contracts — or about 30 percent — for pre-K providers. Stringer said failure to submit the contracts prevents his office from doing health and safety checks.
“We’ve got to make sure the classrooms are safe,” Stringer told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer. “We have to make sure that there’s integrity to this. We have to make sure that the safety violations and insurance information and bad actors are all resolved before this gets ready. That’s my job.”
The mayor responded by saying several city agencies — the Investigation, Health, Education and Fire departments — are checking paperwork and physical sites, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
At a news conference in Brooklyn, de Blasio said if officials find a problem with a community-based organization running a pre-K, they will shut it down and quickly find another site, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
Investigation Department Commissioner Mark Peters, one of the several department heads accompanying the mayor at the news conference, said the city is so intent on making sure the pre-K sites are safe that there will be unannounced spot checks throughout the year.
De Blasio said he’s holding the program to the same standard he would hold if his own children were attending.
Of Stringer’s remarks, the mayor was blunt: “I don’t know why any public official would want to leave parents with a misimpression that there’s a danger when there isn’t a danger.”
Despite the contract issue, pre-K classrooms are expected to open on schedule Wednesday.
Among the contracts that have been reviewed by his office, Stringer said some significant problems have been uncovered. 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.
The mayor dismissed those issues as old news, saying they had already been resolved.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said classes often start without contracts being signed. She said it’s no big deal; it’s just paperwork.
“This is not new,” she said. “It’s not news. It’s simply a matter, like the mayor said, of making it better as we go forward.”
Stringer maintained that the contracts and vetting are crucial.
“This is paperwork that identifies a child pornographer. This is the paperwork that looks at open violations,” he said. “This is the paperwork that matters for parents with children.”
De Blasio made the establishment of universal prekindergarten the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign a year ago.
More than 50,000 kids have enrolled in the full-day program, and city officials said Thursday they expect that number to hit 53,000 by Oct. 1, the final deadline for enrollment.
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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