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De Blasio's $15 Wage for Pre-K Staff Doesn't Level Playing Field: Critics

By Amy Zimmer | January 7, 2016 11:18am
 The Early Childhood Education Center at Brooklyn College, which is a model for high quality pre-K.
The Early Childhood Education Center at Brooklyn College, which is a model for high quality pre-K.
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DNAInfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that the city will raise the salaries of all low-wage workers at city-funded pre-K programs to $15 an hour by the end of 2018 — following a series of DNAinfo stories revealing that a number of workers were forced to get onto food stamps and other public assistance.

The move was welcome news to the approximately 2,000 teacher’s assistants and aides, cooks, janitors and other support staff at hundreds of city-funded pre-schools that serve low-income New York families.

“The mayor deserves a tremendous amount of praise,” said David Nocenti, executive director of East Harlem’s Union Settlement, which runs seven early childhood centers. He was among the many urging the city to increase the minimum wage to $15.

However, Nocenti said, while the mayor has taken steps to eliminate the worst poverty wages at nonprofit early-education centers, he has yet to address the lingering wage gap between them and their counterparts at the city's Department of Education, where teachers can earn half a million more dollars over the course of a 20-year career.

“Those who are teaching the youngest most vulnerable children in the lowest income communities are being paid 10 to 100 percent less than their counterparts in the DOE,” Nocenti said. “They deserve to be respected and their salaries should be commensurate with what they're doing. Equal pay for equal work.”

Wednesday's announcement is the latest move on the part of the mayor to repair relations with early education centers, who have accused him of touting his universal pre-K program even while leaving some of its staffers to walk to work because they cannot afford MetroCards and sending others to get onto public assistance or go deeply into credit card debt.

De Blasio's new minimum wage is part of a larger effort that is expected to lift the wages of 50,000 union workers and nonprofit employees with city contracts across the board.

Who will be affected by the minimum wage raise?

The bump is expected to help more than 2,000 staffers at the city-funded preschools. An increasing number of these workers have had to rely on public assistance to stay afloat, according to data from the Day Care Council of New York.

It will also include family and infant care workers who have contracts through the city's Administration for Children's Services — as well as workers who belong to the municipal workers union District Council 37, such as crossing guards and seasonal workers.

In all, it will apply to approximately 50,000 workers.

Who won’t be affected at the pre-K centers?

Roughly 1,000 teachers and directors at these preschool centers who already earn more than $15 an hour won’t be affected by Wednesday's announcement.

Currently, many of these pre-K teachers are earning half of what their counterparts at the Education Department preschools make. Even program directors earn less than DOE head teachers.

The Day Care Council of New York, which is representing the programs as they negotiate a new contract with the union DC 1707, is asking for all of its teachers to earn the same amount and for salary parity with DOE teachers.

Why do Early Learn centers say their teachers need higher salaries?

Many programs have seen a brain drain of their best teachers going to pre-K jobs run by the DOE that are not only higher paying, but also give teachers off during the summer and shorter days.

In the last two years, more than half of the roughly 250 members of the Day Care Council of New York lost certified teachers to the DOE, a new report from the group found.

Andrea Anthony, the council’s executive director, noted that the issue was deeply felt by directors, too.

"It’s kind of disheartening when you put a lot of time to try to reach pinnacle of your career, but you're making the same amount of money for 10 years," she said. "You can leave, but you don’t because you love your job."

What does de Blasio plan to do next?

He hinted that larger changes might be in store for the city-funded centers.

“We believe we will get to a resolution in the near term and have an opportunity to address some of these issues,” de Blasio said of the teachers’ salary disparity, adding that his announcement on Wednesday was not directly intended to address the lingering wage gap.

He also said he plans to reform the city-funded preschool system and wants to tackle programs that serve children younger than 4 years old next.

"I believe fundamentally in the power of childcare,” he said. “We’re proud of reaching our 4-year-olds, and there’s more to do."