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NYC Pre-K Teachers Weigh Strike As Pay Disparity Persists


April 2, 2019
Jessica Gould
WNYC

At a recent rally on the steps of City Hall, teachers, parents and preschoolers held signs saying “Equal Pay for Equal Work.”

The teachers said the problem came down to simple math.

As the city expands free pre-school programs to three-year-olds, it’s depending on teachers from the Department of Education as well as those at local nonprofits. But there’s a pay gap between the two groups. Teachers at community based organizations (CBOs) make $15,000 to $30,000 less than their counterparts at the DOE, even though many have the same training as those who teach in a school setting.

The two groups of teachers are represented by different unions and the disparity has been around for decades.

Now, as Mayor Bill de Blasio touts the success of pre-k and 3-K across the country, some of the teachers decided to raise the stakes, with a threat to strike.

“They need to be paid what they’re worth,” said Kim Medina, executive director of District Council 1707, which includes pre-school teachers at community-based organizations. “They have to be creative everyday to keep the attention of children that are zero to five years.” Medina said most of her members are women of color, and paying them less than their education department counterparts is “racist” and “misogynistic.”

Community-based programs contract with the city to serve 60 percent of the administration’s pre-K and 3-K For All seats. But a starting salary for a teacher with a masters working for the DOE is $56,711, compared to $34,085 for a teacher with a masters who works at a CBO. As a result, community organizations have reported an exodus of teachers for the school-based programs.

The local nonprofits said their city contracts don’t cover the costs for the services provided, making it difficult to pay their bills. Leaders of some organizations with deep roots in local neighborhoods say they’re strugglingto survive.

At the rally, pre-k teacher Julissa Perez said she wanted to work at the Children’s Aid Society pre-school in Harlem because it’s her home, where she grew up and is raising her kids. But it’s an expensive choice.

“I have a 17 year old and an 8 year old. And bills are expensive, rent is expensive. Living in new York is expensive. And I have to limit myself a lot and do a lot of sacrifices because I don’t get paid that much,” she said. Sometimes she feels like she’s serving the kids in her class at the expense of her own.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza recently told Chalkbeat that the teachers’ union was negotiating with the CBOs, and not the city who does not directly employ them. Still, he said he was weighing in.

“The mayor and I very much want to make sure that anyone working with children has the pay to make it reasonable and probable that they will continue to work with those children,” he said. “They are in the process of negotiating, so I have to be careful of what I say because I can’t negotiate in public. But I can tell you that to the greatest extent that we can, we are weighing in with our values.”