November 20, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
The union representing early child care workers took to the steps of City Hall on Monday, October 19 to rally against two disasters – Hurricane Sandy and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Thirteen subsidized day care and Head Start centers in Brooklyn and Queens ravaged by the recent monster storm remain shuttered this week with little indication that they will ever reopen.
But that's just an added hardship heaped on educators, parents and children already devastated by the loss of their favorite day care programs through the implementation of the city's new EarlyLearn program.
"We predicted that Early Learn would be an early disaster and we were right," New York City Councilmember Letitia James said. "Centers have closed, children have cried, and parents have suffered. As a result, a significant number of parents have just decided to stay home because they could not find adequate child care. And then, along comes a storm, and all of these child care centers are now closed. No heat and no hot water. And, unfortunately, ACS is not really addressing those issues."
CSA Vice President Richard Oppenheimer addressing parents regarding the city's reduction in day care services (Photo by Stephanie West)
Critics say that the loss of those programs – either through the implementation of EarlyLearn or the fury of Hurricane Sandy – is forcing low-income parents unable to find alternative programs to make some impossible choices, while many well-educated and highly experienced educators themselves are being pushed to the brink of poverty after decades of rewarding employment.
"Early Learn has many flaws," District Council 1707 Political Director GL Tyler said. "It has damaged our very comprehensive day care system. Many of these day care centers that have popped up under EarlyLearn have basically thrown away experienced teachers and replaced them with less experienced people."
Linda Peterson taught children at the recently-closed Highbirdge Nursery School in the Bronx for 26 years. But this week, she said she doesn't know if she'll ever get a job teaching again.
"I am heartbroken," Peterson said. "I'm a qualified day care teacher. I love my job. I wasn't a teacher just there for a paycheck – I was there to nurture and teach the children, to teach them the things that I learned growing up. It's sad now. I'm looking for work, I'm looking for unemployment, I'm looking for food stamps. I'm looking for some of everything. But my main thing is, I want to do what I love best. I want to be there to nurture children."
Twelve grade schools in Brooklyn and Queens forced to shut in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were finally allowed to reopen on Monday, but DC1707 argues that the Administration for Children's Services has not done enough to return early education programs like Madeline Jones Head Start in Coney Island, Brooklyn and Sheldon R. Weaver DCC in Far Rockaway, Queens.
"I went out to Far Rockaway last week and saw workers who are afraid of losing their jobs sitting at the ends of dark hallways and kids laying on the floor with blankets," said Linda Caswell, a policy analyst with the Day Care Center Council of New York. "People were trying their best to stay open. I didn't see lights on. Workers are afraid to lose their jobs if they don't show up."
DC1707 Executive Director Raglan George now wants the New York City Council to investigate the entire EarlyLearn program. Of particular concern, according to George, the status of tax payer dollars earmarked for new EarlyLearn programs that so far have been unable to open because they still don't have the necessary licenses from the Health Department almost two months after the new program's official launch date.
"We have checked some of the sites where they gave money and they're not even open," George said. "This mayor claims to be the mayor of all New York, but he's not. It's a crime what he's doing to the children of working families."
Several day care programs that have been awarded contracts through EarlyLearn also reportedly face the possibility missing payroll in the next few weeks.
"With all of these failures, you'd think that there would be some kind of ongoing investigation into why it failed and why it should be pulled back," George said.
That's exactly what Dr. Karen Daughtry would like to see happen. After 40 years of successful operation, Daughtry and the leadership at the Alonzo A. Daughtry Memorial Day Care Center in Brooklyn saw their programs taken away through a disputed scoring process that is now being challenged.
"ACS needs to go back and dismantle Early Learn and put it back to the way it was because it was not broken in the first place," Daughtry said. "Let us go back to child care in this city that we know works."
Councilmember James said the mayor's EarlyLearn program has always been about two things: real estate and union busting.
"I'm hoping that the next mayor will recognize child care as a priority, and that this is a union town, the councilmember said.
Local 205 President Mabel Everett said that the lives of her members have been "torn apart" by both EarlyLearn and Hurricane Sandy.
"Hundreds of well qualified, competent child care professionals are now seeking unemployment or forced to require public assistance because they're being denied unemployment," Everett said. "I am also concerned about the number of Head Start and subsidized day care centers closed by Hurricane Sandy. I am concerned for the parents and the children who do not have access to quality care that they have depended on for generations in Far Rockaway, Coney Island and Staten Island. I have not heard from the city. They're on their own."
DC1707 President Kim Medina charged the billionaire New York City mayor with trying to "decimate the working class."
"What do you do as a parent who has no place to put their child?" Medina said. "The only choice a single mother has is to quit her job and stay home. The Bloomberg administration complains that there's too many people in the [welfare] system. Well, he's creating [conditions] for the system to become larger."