De Blasio Accuses Stringer of Fearmongering on Universal Pre-K

By Jeff Mays on August 29, 2014 1:40pm 

 Mayor Bill de Blasio, watches at P.S. 307 in Brooklyn as Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and key members of his administration and political allies such as Public Advocate Letitia James, dismiss criticism from Comptroller Scott Stringer Thursday about the roll-out of universal pre-K next week.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, watches at P.S. 307 in Brooklyn as Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and key members of his administration and political allies such as Public Advocate Letitia James, dismiss criticism from Comptroller Scott Stringer Thursday about the roll-out of universal pre-K next week.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

VINEGAR HILL — Mayor Bill de Blasio accused Comptroller Scott Stringer of giving parents a "misimpression" of potentially dangerous conditions in the city's new pre-K classrooms.

"I don't know why any public official would want to leave parents with the misimpression that there is a danger when there isn't," de Blasio said at a press conference at P.S. 307 in Brooklyn to tout that a record 50,407 kids were enrolled in pre-K. He called the tally, which more than doubles the number of kids receiving full-day pre-K last year, a "turning point moment" for the city.

In his report, Stringer said the city hasn't shared 70 percent of its contracts with him just a week before school starts. Of those they did share, one vendor had six violations for failing to have personnel properly screened while another had previously employed a staffer charged with conspiracy to commit child pornography, he said.

Stringer added that other pre-K vendors were found to have open health and building code violations, invalid insurance certificates and employees not subjected to proper criminal background checks.

The mayor and other city officials emphasized — often dismissively — that the issues Stringer raised have already been addressed.

Public Advocate Letitia James didn't even address Stringer by name, calling the comptroller an "individual" who raised issues "that have nothing to do with safety" and are "old news."

The vendor with the former employee with the child pornography charge had handled the situation properly and has a strong background check system in place. The other vendor submitted all the required paperwork to the proper city agencies back in April, James said.

De Blasio said he told Stringer in a meeting, "show us where there is a specific problem."

"The fact is we don't have an example that's been provided to us by the Comptroller's office of something where there is a specific danger we have to address," de Blasio added, saying the issues over safety were being handled by "serious professionals" and "experts."

The mayor's office said the number of contracts they've turned over so far this year to Stringer's office is double what was turned over last year — when just 22 percent of new pre-K vendor contracts had been submitted to the city by the start of school.

Stringer defended himself at a separate press conference Thursday, saying his role as an independent contract review expert is a check and balance for the mayor. His job is to "make sure everyone else has done their job and that nothing has fallen through the cracks," he said.

And while other city officials "all work for the mayor," Stringer said, "I work for the people of this city being an independent watchdog."

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