City to give community-based Pre-K teachers pay equity with public peers

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Amidst the flurry of budgeting and planning for next year, preschool teachers got a glimmer of good news.

The city council and mayor’s office reached an agreement with teachers unions to increase pay for universal pre-K program teachers at community-based organizations —charter, private or parochial. The city contracts with community-based organization to administer Pre-K For All, a free early education program for 4-year-olds.

Until now, the city has paid these teachers 60 to 70 percent of what public school teachers make. The funding did not cover health insurance, pension or extra classroom enrichment programs.

The city reached a tentative $15 million agreement with District Council 1707 Local 205 and the Day Care Council of New York to provide its more than 4,000 early education employees with pay increases, according to a release from the mayor’s office. Over the next three years, certified teachers, food workers, janitors and other support staff will see steady pay increases intended to close the pay gap between community-based organizations — also known as CBOs — and public pre-kindergarten programs.

“Our members and their staff — many of whom are women of color — provide high quality and crucial child care services to New York City’s families,” Day Care Council director Andrea Anthony said, in a statement. “It is only fitting that these educators be compensated on par with their peers in public schools.”

By 2021, union member teachers with a bachelor’s degree will make about $61,000, according to the mayor’s office, and those with a master’s degree will make more than $68,000. But right now, that tentative agreement covers only members of 1701 Local 205.

“We expect what’s been done for the unionized teachers to flow through to the certified teachers in the rest of the field,” Nilesh Patel, labor relations and mediation services council for the Day Care Council, told The Riverdale Press.

Although he can’t speak for city officials, Patel said giving some CBO employees raises but not others doesn’t solve the pay parity issue that nearly resulted in widespread strikes this spring.

“Fifty to 60 percent of universal pre-K is administered through CBOs,” Patel said. “To continue underfunding them hurts the city’s program in the long run.”

Non-certified teachers and support staff will receive a $1,800 bonus and 2.75 percent wage increase in 2021 under the agreement. The city program requires teachers to become certified within three years, so some community-based pre-K teachers are still working toward full certification.

The large pay increases like those planned for certified teachers may not be in the works for non-certified teachers, however, because the goal of the union agreement is for community-based schools to attract and retain certified teachers, officials said.

Teacher turnover because of low pay plagued community-based organizations in recent years, Patel said. The pay increases will allow these schools to compete with education department-run schools for qualified teachers.

That will be a boon for preschool directors who have seen some of their best teachers leave for higher salaries, said Sylvia Fox, director of Yearling Nursery School in Spuyten Duyvil.

“We don’t have the same ability to compete with the public schools as far as pay,” Fox said.

When certified teachers can make as much as $20,000 more at a public school, most make an economic choice.

“Even the maximum salaries we pay our teachers are quite low,” Fox said. “And because we don’t get the funding we need from the city, we can’t provide what they deserve.”

Tara Mastin, the new director of Riverdale Presbyterian Church Nursery School, said the agreement is a step in the right direction.

“Overall from a staffing standpoint, salaries and turnover have a great impact on the morale of the school,” she said. “Anything that can be done to increase salaries that make them not only comparable but competitive will help ensure the quality of the CBOs.”

“I’m confident that the resources and the good will is there for them to reach a fair parity deal,” Councilman Andrew Cohen said, “and it is my understanding that it is coming together.”

Although he hasn’t been part of the negotiation, Cohen has paid attention because he represents a number of community-based early childhood schools. It’s likely the pay increases from the teachers union agreement will also flow to all certified teachers, he said, even those who aren’t union members.

“There is supplemented money for the contracts to make sure that services can still be provided and the teachers are paid at the same wage that they would be paid,” Cohen said, “whether they were at a CBO or at a DOE facility.”

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