CIVIC CENTER — In a slight break with Mayor Bill de Blasio's unwillingness to concede the possibility of failure in the city's ambitious universal pre-K plan, Education Department Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged Tuesday that the city is willing to prepare for any outcome.
“In education, there’s always a Plan B,” Fariña said at a City Council hearing Tuesday when asked what her backup plan was if the state legislature didn’t approve de Blasio’s proposed tax plan. “And if necessary Plan C. But we have to be optimistic, otherwise, they’ll tell us to go right to Plan B without giving us a chance to do Plan A.”
Fariña initially demurred on the question, and even when she answered, didn’t provide details on what Plan B might entail.
Fariña's comments came as Albany lawmakers are debating the merits of approving de Blasio’s push for permission to increase taxes on high-income New York City residents to pay for his universal pre-kindergarten program.
Tuesday's council hearing was supposed to focus on why Albany needed to support de Blasio's plan. But during her testimony of more than an hour, Fariña spent almost her entire time fielding questions from council members looking for details on the city’s plans.
Among the questions were how the DOE will combat space issues and what constitutes high-quality pre-K.
Asked by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito what the administration is doing to get from 19,500 full-day pre-K seats to 73,250 in two years, Fariña said the administration was speaking with principals and the heads of community-based organizations, or CBOs, to continue to stockpile space options, as well as look to build new facilities where needed.
Even in schools that say they don’t have space for pre-K, Fariña said the education department would look to find some.
“Some schools have space that they don’t deem space for any number of reasons,” Fariña said, promising to go back to those schools “and helping them solve problems” to find room for pre-K seats.
“We are very conscious that this has to also be something people buy into," Fariña added.
The schools chancellor also faced questions over just how the city would ensure it had enough pre-K teachers, and that those teachers were providing high-quality instruction across the city.
“You’ve got to be the right person for the job,” said Fariña.
Sophia Pappas, who heads the city’s Office of Early Childhood Education, told council members that the city is expecting to bring on an additional 2,000 teachers for UPK, which she said represented a “strong pipeline of early-childhood certified teachers” for the city.
Fariña said the first prerequisite would be finding people with past experience dealing with 4-year-olds, as well as academic and certificate requirements. She said she plans to offer a week of intensive training for those who would be in the pre-K classrooms.
Fariña said she wasn't concerned about interest in teaching pre-K, just about getting the right people.
“I’m not worried that there won’t be enough people applying, I just want to make sure the people who do apply are also committed to being retrained,” she said. “Even if you come with a license already, we’re going to say, ‘In addition to what you have, this is what you also have to do.’”