MANHATTAN — Directors of many city-funded preschool programs central to Mayor Bill de Blasio's universal pre-K plans earn thousands less than teachers they oversee and haven't seen a raise in a decade, DNAinfo New York has learned.
It has been a bitter pill to swallow for many bosses of the nearly 400 community-based centers across the city that provide pre-school for kids ages 2 – 5 through the city's Early Learn program, a lifeline for thousands of low-income working families, who depend on these classes that run 10 hours a day, 12 months a year.
The starting salary for a director is $47,101 a year, which is $9,000 less than what some of their teachers can get after the mayor gave them a raise through his Pre-K For All program to provide pre-K seats for every 4-year-old in the city.
"The city came up with a beautiful budget and initiative [for Pre-K for All], and, the directors doing the outreach, so we can have kids enrolled in these classes, are the people they're saying don't deserve a raise," said Yessenia Rosario, executive director of Inwood's Nicholas Cardell Day Care Center, which has Early Learn and Pre-K for All classes under the same roof.
"These [Pre-K for All] teachers are receiving the children I called and contacted all summer while they were off in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on vacation," added Rosario, who's been at the helm of the Vermilyea Avenue center for more than a decade.
While her UPK teacher returned to school after the summer break and got a $3,500 retention bonus, she and her Early Learn teachers — who worked all summer — got nothing, she said.
Rosario said directors like her are the ones who have to mediate the fallout between the multiple tiers of teachers — as city-funded UPK teachers of 4 year olds earn up to $17,000 more than their city-funded Early Learn peers who teach 2 and 3 year olds.
"I have had to work hard at keeping morale up," Rosario noted, saying she has to constantly mediate to keep the work environment from turning toxic.
Pre-K for All's better wages have also siphoned many quality teachers out of the Early Learn program, where workers are paid "poverty level" wages, DNAinfo New York reported last week.
"It's like a juggling act. You have to make the employees understand this is beyond your control," Cheryl Dewitt, executive director of the Williamsbridge NAACP Early Childhood Education Center in The Bronx.
The directors of these community-based programs are largely women of color who work at these centers for reasons that go beyond money, advocates in the early childhood sector said. Many were already operating on low margins before the city's pre-K expansion, with some refusing to draw their own salaries at various times over the years in order to pay their staff.
"They don't take these jobs because they're lucrative," said Randi Herman, of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents the directors. "They take them for other reasons. It's like the special ed teacher who gets kicked day after day and still comes back."
She added: "That doesn't alter the fact they should be paid."
Directors have to deal with more "squabbles" caused by the salary disparities, with one teacher possibly earning significantly more than the person in the neighboring classroom.
And many are also struggling to pay their centers' bills in the face of increasing rents and liability costs, Heman said.
"What's hard for them to understand is, 'We're taking care of everyone else. Who's taking care of us?" Herman added.
Many directors said they wished the city had consulted them, for instance, when deciding to implement the retention bonus, so they could discuss how it might affect their centers.
They'd, of course, like more money for their programs and staff.
City officials said they're currently in the process of reaching out to early education centers to notify them of a 2.5 percent raise (or raise their salaries to $11.50 an hour, if they wouldn't reach it otherwise) that will be retroactive to July 1. They did not say when the payments would begin to be made.
"Because of this administration, these hardworking educators are getting their first wage increase in a decade," mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell said. "We look forward to continue working with providers and educators to make sure parents continue to have strong, high-quality options for their children."
Department of Education officials said that the community centers have benefitted from the expansion, too, noting that in the weeks leading up to this school year, community-based early childhood education centers saw nearly 4,000 new kids enrolled in their pre-K programs.
Also, 50 percent of the pre-K applications listed community centers as their first choice, officials said.
"As our overall enrollment numbers have increased all sectors have done well," DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said. "The demand is there for all programs and parents today have the choice of more high quality providers with better programming than ever before."