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Free Pre-K Shortage on UES Prompts City to Search for Providers: Officials

By Shaye Weaver | June 22, 2016 2:09pm
 The Department of Education will send out an RFP for pre-k providers this week, it said.
The Department of Education will send out an RFP for pre-k providers this week, it said.
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MANHATTAN — The city is looking for organizations to run pre-k programs in the neighborhood, after 668 Upper East Siders applied for the 500 pre-k seats available in the neighborhood during the first rounds of applications this year, according to officials.

The Department of Education are putting out a request for proposals this week, seeking local providers to open more pre-k seats in the neighborhood — a move that comes as parents and elected officials continue to push for more options, according to a DOE spokeswoman. 

Many 4-year-olds on the Upper East Side were waitlisted in programs near their home and given options that were as far as 40 minutes away, parents said.

The DOE said they couldn't immediately provide the number of kids waitlisted for pre-k seats on the Upper East Side.

The city added 90 pre-k seats to the neighborhood in May, including 36 at the Manhattan Schoolhouse and 54 at the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery.

But local parents say that's not enough, including Lenox Hill resident Ariel Chesler, whose daughter was one of those who did not get a pre-k spot in the neighborhood for the coming fall.

His daughter was offered a seat at the Pre-k Center at 1 Peck Slip in the Financial District, 40 minutes away from home, Chesler said. His eldest daughter went through a similar thing last year and he had to send her to a private pre-k program, costing the family $10,000 for the year.

"We don’t have a nanny and there's no way I can leave work in the middle of the afternoon and my wife couldn’t be in two places at the same time," Chesler said.

"We will probably be forced to pay for a private program again. We'll have to borrow, beg and steal to do a private pre-k program, usually it's about $30,000 for the year, but my wife is a teacher at the private school my oldest daughter goes to so that has helped a lot."

► READ: Dozens More Free Pre-K Seats Just Opened Up on the UES

► READ: Why New School Seats Aren’t Keeping Pace With City's Housing Boom

Councilman Ben Kallos wants the city to open more grade schools on the Upper East Side to create space for addition pre-k programs. He urged the DOE to consider the idea during a City Council education committee hearing on May 16, also suggesting that a pre-k center could be built on a empty lot on East 78th Street and First Avenue.

But DOE officials said there wasn't a need for grade schools.

"We recently opened off the top of my head, three new elementary schools on the Upper East Side and expanded the capacity at a fourth at P.S. 59, and we have largely addressed if not completely addressed the wait list and issues that existed just a few years ago," said Elizabeth Rose, the DOE's deputy chancellor of operations.

A spokesman for the DOE could not say when the RFP for new pre-k providers would go public, but said that it's expected to go out sometime this week.

"We’ve worked closely with families and Council Member Kallos to significantly expand free, full-day, high-quality pre-k in this community, and there’s still work to do," said Devora Kaye, a DOE spokeswoman. "That’s why Chancellor Fariña directed the Division of Early Childhood Education to send a new RFP out this week to identify new pre-k providers in the Upper East Side and other high-demand areas for the 2017-18 school year, and our pre-k outreach team continues to reach and support families to find the best fit for their child this coming fall.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: A DOE official incorrectly stated the number of Upper East Side kids who applied for free pre-k during the first round of applications during a public meeting. Subsequently, a DOE spokesman stated that the actual number of applicants is 668.