NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — School bells will ring, but not all prekindergarten classrooms in New York City will open their doors Thursday.
Because of safety or integrity concerns, the de Blasio administration is shutting down nine out of 1,700 pre-K centers and delaying the start date for 36 others. The move comes just two days before the programs, part of the mayor’s signature universal pre-K program, were set to begin.
As 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported, 265 children were slated to attend the nine programs whose contracts were revoked. Impacted parents have been notified, and 83 kids have been re-enrolled elsewhere as of Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
About 900 children are enrolled in the 36 programs being delayed. Most of those will open Monday, but some may be stalled a few weeks, officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday he is not characterizing the delays and cancellations as a glitch; it’s just part of the process, he said.
“If we don’t see what we’re looking for, we’re going to be aggressive in terms of protecting the health and safety of our kids,” the mayor told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
De Blasio said he’s still confident the rollout for more than 50,000 kids will go well.
Officials said city agencies have completed about 6,000 inspections and walk-throughs at pre-K sites. The Fire and Buildings departments still have 400 inspections left to do — and those are expected to be wrapped up this week.
By law, every pre-K staffer must clear a background check, though a teacher whose approval is pending is permitted to deal with children if a cleared supervisor is present. Administration officials stressed that every staffer has submitted a background check but, after nearly a week of inquiries, could not say how many have been cleared.
The nine programs whose contracts were revoked are:
• Child Development Support Corp. (Clinton Hill)
• Rainbow Afterschool Program (Clason Point)
• Birch Family Services Center (East Flatbush)
• Manhattan Early Childhood Center (Washington Heights)
• Queens Early Childhood Center (Springfield Gardens)
• Watson Avenue Early Childhood Center (Parkchester)
• Rainbow Montessori (East Bronx)
• Alpha Academy (Jamaica)
• Rising Stars Islamic School (Jamaica)
“Out of 1,700 sites, there are nine that aren’t opening, there’s less than a half percent,” First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris told The Associated Press. “And it’s something around 2 percent to be delayed a couple of days. That’s pretty good delivery on 53,000 kids and 1,700 sites, to be about 98 percent on the money.
“If somebody didn’t fail, we probably weren’t checking enough,” Shorris continued.
Last week, city Comptroller Scott Stringer said the mayor’s office had 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 prevented his office from conducting health and safety checks.
De Blasio downplayed the comptroller’s comments, saying some contracts are often submitted after school opens and that several city agencies — the Investigation, Health, Education and Fire departments — had already been checking paperwork and facilities.
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. All 45 singled out Tuesday by the de Blasio administration are CBOs.
The establishment of universal prekindergarten was de Blasio’s signature campaign issue a year ago and helped him vault into City Hall as New York’s first Democratic mayor in a generation. Though his plan to finance it with a tax on wealthy New Yorkers died in Albany, he was able to obtain $300 million in state funds for the program, which many feel could act as a model elsewhere in the nation.
De Blasio has embraced the challenge, saying the plan is a “transformative moment” for early childhood education. But the rollout is happening extraordinarily quickly — New York is trying to do in months what smaller cities did in years — and significant failures would likely be catnip to the city’s tabloids and could undermine the mayor’s future large-scale endeavors.
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