Avella assails city decision to eliminate pre-K funding

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Many northeast Queens children in universal prekindergarten programs will have to shuttle between schools in School District 25 and private nursery schools if the city ends its contracts with several community-based organizations providing extended-day programs.

That was the fear shared by parents, educators and elected officials at a rally Tuesday at Bayside’s Buzz O’Rourke Playground near PS 41.

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said several community-based organizations, such as the Bayside Kindergarten and Nursery in Auburndale and the International Nursery School in Flushing, had recently received notices from the Department of Education informing them their contracts with the city would be canceled within 30 days.

“It’s important for the city to live up to its commitment in honoring these contracts,” said Avella, who warned that hundreds of students at private pre-K sites in School District 25 could be reassigned to public schools outside of their communities for 2 1/2 hours a day, with parents needing to arrange separate child care for the rest of the day on their own.

Such a shuffling would present “serious logistical issues for the educational system,” said Avella.

Meryl Kalensky, director of the International Nursery School, said her school served 36 universal pre-K children last school year, most of whom stayed the entire day—even though the state only provided funding for a half day. Parents usually pay for the other half day, she said.

“Some parents need extended day; (others) need schools that are close by,” said Kalensky.

“As a working parent full time, I would need the rollover program,” said Elizabeth Breland of Fresh Meadows, whose child becomes eligible for universal pre-K this fall.

If parents were to pick up the whole tab to keep their children at the school, it would cost them $5,500 a year, she said.

Lenore Rappaport, director of the Bayside Kindergarten and Nursery in Auburndale, said that without offering universal pre-K, “we will not be able to afford to keep our doors open.”

Education Department spokesman Paul Rose said the department decided in the spring to transfer District 25 students in state-funded private pre-K programs to public schools based on the uncertainty of state funding for universal pre-K and declining enrollment in District 25.

“We have been reviewing this decision on the basis of student needs, school needs and issues of funding,” said Rose. “We reached out to community-based organizations to schedule a meeting in the future to discuss these issues.

“Since we are confident that we will continue to work with them to provide services to meet the needs of parents and students, we’ll make the decision based on what is best for our students and the community,” said Rose.

Rose said nine out of 14 community-based organizations were affected by the decision.

Sources said that had the state cut universal pre-K, the city would have had to find a way to provide services to the affected children within the city schools.

State Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) said the state Legislature had restored funding for the program in this year’s budget over Gov. George Pataki’s veto.

“We didn’t restore it to have our kids juggled around as if they were furniture,” said Grodenchik.

Grodenchik said District 25 schools in downtown Flushing were already overcrowded.

“I don’t understand where the DOE thinks they’re going to put these children,” he said.

Maria Desiderio of Whitestone said her daughter had “soared to the sky” at the Auburndale pre-K program.

“Children need stability,” said Desiderio. “It’s really ludicrous to think these children are going to learn anything” by shuttling between programs, she said.

Avella said the community-based organizations would be meeting with Education Department officials within the next week to discuss the contracts.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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