WILLIAMSBURG — A nearly four-decade-old daycare center is suing the city for an "arbitrary" decision to deny it funding from the city, despite the program's successful track record and importance to the community.
The board of Small World Daycare Center — a program with 90 preschoolers and 70 after-school students at 211 Ainslie St. — claims in its lawsuit that the city's new EarlyLearn NYC application for funding places too little weight on the history of a program's success.
The suit, filed last month in Brooklyn Supreme Court, claims that the program had "consistently received high marks on evaluations" by the city until the new application was used to grade the center.
"Even though Small World had received stellar reviews, it was denied funding," said attorney Romy Ganschow, representing the Conselyea Street Block Association, whose members make up Small World's board. "We're challenging the new funding system as being an arbitrary funding system."
Ganschow said that EarlyLearn NYC — a restructuring of the city's funding to childcare that started this year — had scored Small World low on its new rubric and therefore cut the daycare's funding this summer.
Court papers claim that under EarlyLearn's request for proposals for the funding, only 20 percent of the score was based on the program's past success.
"Proposers with no history of providing relevant child care services could earn up to 80 percent of the total possible points, even if they had no prior experience...or had done a poor job of providing such services in the past," the suit states.
"Rather than fund programs with good track records, they funded new proposals," Ganschow said of the city's decision.
Nonetheless, Brooklyn Councilwoman Diana Reyna's office secured funds for the program to continue through June 2013.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department maintained that the lawsuit had no merit, and that the process of evaluating the daycare was valid. She said staff from the city's Department of Education who had "child care experience and expertise" had evaluated proposals.
“Proposals were scored based on successful relevant experience, demonstrated organizational capability and quality of proposed approach,” the spokeswoman added.
She noted that the daycare responded to the city’s request for proposals for EarlyLearn NYC funding along with hundreds of others, and that its proposal scored lower than others.
“The process was appropriate, fair and objective, and we believe this lawsuit lacks merit,” she added.
Parents and staff at Small World said they hoped the daycare would prevail in its suit because the neighborhood institution's closure would strip them of an invaluable community resource.
"Bringing my kids here is like leaving them with a grandma, grandpa or uncle. It's like family here," said Nicoletta DeJoseph, who attended the program when she was a child and now sends her 3-year-old to Small World.
DeJoseph, who reminisced about her own ceramics and dance classes at the center, said she could not imagine finding another a safe and warm environment to send her children if Small World closed.
"It's like a home, you get to know everybody here," she said. "It's very upsetting to think of it closing."
Local parent Dorota Burzynski also said it was distressing to imagine losing the center.
"My son had a hard time in other places, but here they take care of him," she said of the individualized attention her 3-year-old child, Marcel, received.
Small World's director Agnes DiGruccio, who said she has led the program for "at least 15 years," also said the possible loss of the daycare would be devastating.
"I don't think it's fair what the city did. I hope the lawsuit goes through," she said, echoing DeJoseph's comment that "it's like a family here."