Axed Day Care Center Sponsors – ‘It’s Not Too Late to Beat Back EarlyLearn’
September 21, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
After 43 years of educating precious neighborhood children in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the operators of the Horace E. Greene Day Care Center at 600 Hart Street are expected to turn over their keys to an entirely new group of sponsors on September 28, and simply walk away. But they aren’t alone.
Increasingly, long-established and well-run day care centers like the Horace E. Greene Day Care Center located elsewhere throughout the five boroughs, are being taken over by new entities, as the Bloomberg administration moves ahead with its controversial plan to replace the city’s publicly-funded early childhood education system with a controversial model called EarlyLearn
“We have sponsoring boards who we never heard of before coming in and taking over,” said Day Care Employees Local 205 President Mabel Everett. “My center, Afro-American Parents Day Care One, in Queens, for example, was started by Former Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington. But an organization that campaigned for it – just took it over – along all my children.”
Like the Bushwick Improvement Society – operators of the Horace E. Green Day Care Center – leaders of the Alonzo A. Daughtry Memorial Day Care Center in Brooklyn, are also being forced to relinquish control of the two early learning programs they have successfully operated for 44 years. All because they supposedly failed to score high enough on an Request for Proposal submitted last year in accordance with the new EarlyLearn program.
But the Alonzo A. Daughtry Memorial Day Care Center’s board of directors maintains that the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) deliberately lowered the group’s RFP test score so that the group was effectively blocked from winning a new contract.
“Having our scores deliberately lowered by ACS personnel is unfair, illegal and criminal, and renders the entire EarlyLearn Scoring process null and void,” said Alonzo A. Daughtry Memorial Day Care Center Chairperson Gwendolyn E. Wilson.
RPF test scores also figure prominently in the Bushwick Improvement Society’s fight to continue on at the Horace E. Greene Day Care Center. ACS says that another group called Bushwick United had a better score on its RFP, so that’s why the organization is being awarded the keys to the Horace E. Greene Day Care Center site.
But that has yet to be verified because ACS refuses to publicly release Bushwick United’s RFP score – and the group, which is poised to gain control of nine day care centers – claims that it doesn’t know what it scored on its RFP. When asked, Bushwick United’s operations officer said, “We don’t have access to that information.” That statement also contradicts ACS, which maintains that the results of Bushwick United’s RFP have been readily available to the group for some time.
There is no mystery about the Bushwick Improvement Society’s RFP score, however. According to Chairperson Irma Varner, the group posted a score of 90.6.
“[Executive Director] Jose Gonzalez and Bushwick United claim they did not receive their score, so I don’t know how we’re supposed to believe that they scored higher than us,” Varner said. “And if they did score higher than us, how much higher could they have scored? I don’t think it was high enough to take away our program.”
The Horace E. Greene Day Care Center is presently operating at capacity five days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The 115 preschoolers comprising its young student body range in age from two-and-a-half to four-years-old. The cost of enrollment is determined on a sliding scale based on income.
Up until now, the fees have been largely affordable to the economically disadvantaged families living in the surrounding community. But some fear that will now change.
“I’m quite sure that’s going to change because for some people it’s changed already,” Varner said. “Some were paying $5 per child per week. Then they [ACS] moved it up to $15 per child per week. And some of them pay higher than that.”
DC 1707 Union Representative Byron Wright called ACS’ selection process at the Horace E. Greene Day Care Center patently unfair.
“It’s one thing if they said that the center was under-performing and we want to close it, but that’s not the case here,” Wright said. “It was a bias selection process.”
In addition to upending decades-old programs, the city’s drive to upending publicly-funded early childhood education could cost many their jobs, while also dealing a staggering blow to organized labor.
“Many of us will be unemployed,” Everett said. “We’re not only losing teachers, we’re also losing custodians and cooks.”
Virtually the entire 30-member staff presently working at the Horace E. Greene Day Care Center, for example, now faces termination – and many parents are unhappy about losing trusted teachers. According to Varner, “four or five” teachers presently working on their masters degrees may be retained at the site – but in reduced capacities such as educational aides or assistants in order to “pay them less.”
“People need those jobs, so I guess they’re going to take those positions,” Varner said.
According to Everett, looming layoffs and demotions are not only personally traumatic for those affected, they’re also carefully aimed at the heart of the union as well.
“Everybody is going to be let go, and then some of us will be rehired,” Everett said. “But they’re not going to be part of a union. They’re going to be told, ‘If I rehire you, there’s not going to be a union.’ That’s a form of union busting.”
Critics of EarlyLearn also see the new modal as a cynical cost-cutting measure that seeks to consolidate HeadStart and Day Care programs, while also paving the way for for-profit and anti-union sponsors to eventually move in.
Some 6,000 Local 205 members presently work at over 350 child care centers located throughout the city.
City Comptroller John Liu recently called the new scheme a “boondoggle,” and AFSCME is urging the U.S. Department of health and Human Services to “encourage New York City to revise and re-issue Early Learn’s RFP in order to ensure that low-income families’ access to these critical programs is not impeded and to honor collective bargaining agreements with child care and Head Start workers.” (DC 1707 Members Mobilize for Political Action).
Yet despite that – and citywide outcry over interrupted programs – ACS said that it is moving full speed ahead with its planned October 1 launch date of EarlyLearn.
“This is happening throughout the city,” Everett said. “Many centers are being told that there’s not going to be any more medical [coverage], no more pension. Many of our employees now have to pay into their medical, and they can’t afford it.”
The loss of New York City’s loss of super-grantee status earlier in the year, also threatens union strength.
“If NYC is no longer a super-grantee, that means the Federal government will issue contracts to other vendors, which will mean the union wouldn’t have the luxury of a massive contract anymore,” DC 1707 Political Director G.L. Tyler said. “We may have to reorganize these new shops. So if there are 150 HeadStart centers, it could be that, we could be organizing 20, 30, 40, or even 50 more shops. It’s a concern.”
Day care center operators facing ACS’ boot, however, are not giving up without a fight. On Sunday, September 23, many will rally outside The House of the Lord Church, located at 415 Atlantic Avenue, beginning at 5 p.m.
The Bushwick Improvement Society, meanwhile, plans to hold a press conference the following day at the Horace E. Greene Day Care Center beginning at 11 a.m. The group has also retained legal representation and filed a Freedom of Information Act in an effort to learn Bushwick United’s RFP score.
“[On September 28], we have to turn over our keys to another agency and leave the building,” Varner said. “That’s what they want us to do. But we’re not willing to do that.”