HAMILTON HEIGHTS — A top-rated day care center defunded by the Administration of Children's Services in favor of a corporate child care provider is suing the agency claiming the contracting process was "tainted."
Nasry Michelen Day Care Center lost its city funding at 510 West 145th St. after 35 years, despite getting top scores on their reviews, because the ACS opted to go with Lutheran Social Services after two former agency commissioners went to work there, according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on June 26.
Ex-Associate Commissioner of Operations Sara Vecchiotti and former Assistant Commissioner for Program Development Sherone Smith-Sanchez exerted "undue influence" on the bidding process and violated the city's conflict of interest regulation, the suit claims.
Vecchiotti became chief operating officer at Lutheran after she left ACS in 2012 and Smith-Sanchez, who left in 2014, was hired by the childcare provider as the executive director, according to the lawsuit.
ACS, "breached their duty of care by, among other things, failing to supervise and question the actions and involvement of high ranking members of ACS involved in the RFP process, before, during, and after they left the agency to work for a grantee that had competed for the RFP," according to the lawsuit.
Lutheran did nor reply to questions seeking comment about the allegations in the suit.
ACS declined to comment on the lawsuit.
"While it would be inappropriate to comment on this pending matter, providing affordable, quality early education remains a priority for this Administration," spokesman Christopher McKniff said in a statement.
McKniff also declined to comment on the status of Nasry's appeal.
"There have been no changes to the number of high quality early care and education services offered to families in this area," he said.
The City Council has stepped into the fray donating $933,000 in discretionary funding to Nasry.
“We think it’s critical that they continue to operate,” Councilman Mark Levine said. “It’s just not good public policy to evict a group like this.”
If Nasry loses its appeal, the center can use the funds to find a new place, he added.
The city agency is expected to respond to the appeal by July 22. While the day care is still open, until then, it is in limbo.
“We have to see how it’s going to work,” Nasry director Nereyda Cruz said. “We have the funding but we don’t have a location.”
The center will have to close indefinitely until they find a new location, if they loose their appeal, Cruz added.