Politico NY: Advocates push on pre-K pay, with nod to de Blasio’s minimum wage move

By Eliza Shapiro

1:43 p.m. | Jan. 6, 2016

A large coalition of early childhood education advocates and elected officials took to the City Hall steps on Wednesday to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio — again — to fund pay parity between teachers at all pre-Kindergarten and day care centers in New York City.

The pay parity issue has emerged as a serious threat to the continued success of de Blasio’s signature pre-K program, and has caused friction between the mayor from some of his most stalwart education allies.

Teachers and directors at pre-K centers in community-based organizations (CBOs) — which make up about half of all the city’s pre-K offerings — make significantly less and have fewer benefits than their counterparts at Department of Education pre-K centers. And instructors at day care centers often have even smaller salaries.

“It is past time we build a unified system that treats all child care providers and children equally,” Public Advocate Letitia James said Wednesday.

But James, city councilmembers and advocates were careful to thank the mayor for his new commitment to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour.

“We’re not being critical of the mayor,” James said twice during Wednesday’s press conference. But the new minimum wage does not affect CBO teachers, assistant teachers and directors, only city-employed custodians, cooks and aides. “We thank the mayor, but the issue still exists,” James said.

James, who has made pre-K pay parity a priority over the last few months, was joined by a group of councilmembers — including Steve Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Danny Dromm, Margaret Chin, Alan Maisel, Elizabeth Crowley, Jumaane Williams, Andy King and Helen Rosenthal. Most of the councilmembers who spoke also thanked the mayor for raising the wage for city workers.

Andrea Anthony, the executive director of the Day Care Council of New York, also acknowledged the mayor’s new minimum wage announcement while simultaneously pushing him to immediately address pay parity.

“We all appreciate what the mayor has done,” she said, “but we can’t forget the assistant teachers, the teachers, and the directors.”

Advocates have been calling attention to the pay parity issue for over a year, and have sent a series of letters demanding that City Hall address the disparities.

The situation is a uniquely awkward one for the early childhood community, which has received a considerable boost from the massive expansion of pre-K, and for the mayor, who needs the support of pre-K providers to continue the expansion. De Blasio has taken some steps to address the pay disparities, including creating signing and retention bonuses for CBO teachers and using $17 million of the pre-K budget to address some salary inequities.

Contracts between early childhood education providers are negotiated between the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the city’s principals’ union and the Day Care Council. Clem Richardson, a spokesman for the CSA, said Wednesday that the union has received a contract proposal from the Day Care Council and is urging the de Blasio administration to fund it.

“CSA finds the economic proposal acceptable, as it provides members with the first pay raise in a decade and includes steps towards pay parity,” Richardson said. “We are waiting for City Hall to formally recognize this proposal and ensure that the funding is in the city budget to  support it.”

Early childhood providers said Wednesday that they expect to have a sense of whether the contract will be funded over the next few weeks.

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for de Blasio, responded to the press conference in a statement on Wednesday: “The City works closely with every center to ensure they have the resources, the personnel and the support they need to provide a high-quality early education. We have not encountered any unusual staffing challenges to date. The additional support we’ve offered — from higher salaries to giving centers access to the DOE application portal — is helping ensure our early education centers can compete for the best talent.”

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