Pressure to raise salaries for pre-K New York administrators falls flat

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For Mitrajita Persaud, a salary increase would mean more than just financial stability. After nearly four decades teaching young children and three years leading a preschool in New York City, it would also boost her self-esteem.

A higher salary would mean that his work is valued.

“They don’t see us. Because of our low pay, ”said Persaud, director of a preschool in southern Jamaica that is funded by the city to serve children from low-income families.

Advocates and administrators hoping for salary increases saw their hopes dashed Wednesday, when the city’s budget for 2022 was approved. Despite the historically high spending plan of $ 98.7 billion for the next fiscal year, the city council’s $ 21 million proposal to increase the salaries of pre-K directors at city-subsidized centers has failed. been included in the final budget.

Soon, directors of community programs like Persaud’s might even earn less than the teachers they supervise.

Low wages plague the early childhood education system across the country. But in New York, there are huge wage disparities, even within the system. Program managers in community-run programs, who contract with the education department to provide free and subsidized care to working families, earn about half of what their counterparts in city-run programs earn .

Minimum salaries for community program directors start at just over $ 63,000 for those who are unionized. But since many centers are not part of a union, job postings often advertise much lower wages – sometimes around $ 40,000.

Meanwhile, in the education department’s programs, principals with one year of experience earn over $ 133,000, including planned increases starting in September.

Wage disparities are particularly glaring as they vary by gender and race: the early childhood workforce in community organizations is more likely to be women of color, compared to those earning higher wages. brought up in city schools.

“Principals and teachers, like all staff [in community organizations] should be treated like essential workers now that the city is emerging from the pandemic, and pay equity for a predominantly black and brunette women group is essential, ”said Tara Gardner, executive director of the Day Care Council of New York, which represents the suppliers.

Community-run programs enroll the majority of children in the city’s popular Pre-K for All, which is universal for 4-year-olds, and its 3-K program, which prepares to serve about two-thirds of the population. the population of the city. 3 years next year. But in many cases, these centers also care for children in other state-subsidized programs, meaning principals and teachers work longer hours and all year round – as opposed to the schedule. 10 months for education department pre-K programs – even if you earn less.

Teacher salary increases left administrators behind

Teachers in community preschool programs also faced pay gaps compared to those in city-run preschools. But they recently won big raises to help bring wages to a more level playing field. The latest of these increases will take effect in October, bringing the salaries of new teachers to about $ 69,000. This is higher than the starting salaries of directors.

The low salaries, in addition to the salary disparity for directors, add to the challenges of recruiting and turnover. And it ultimately affects students, said Maria Mavrides, a researcher at CUNY Hunter College who studies the early childhood workforce in New York City. His interviews with dozens of educators and parents showed that staff turnover made it difficult for parents to feel safe dropping off their children, and students had a harder time separating from their parents, especially during the pandemic. .

“This bond of trust and affection was very difficult,” said Marvrides.

In one center, there had been five directors in two years. Marvrides also found that some centers are supervised by people who are still seeking to become certified teachers themselves, meaning that some principals are less qualified than their teachers.

“We have to take into account the quality of the mentorship that is provided. How can you supervise and coach teachers when you yourself have limited experience? Said Mavrides.

The low wages impact not only on education, but also on the mental health of administrators, she said. Working during the pandemic, even as many public schools were closing, seemed to intensify those feelings. In his conversations with the directors, they relayed “feeling abandoned, not feeling safe, feeling that their life was on the line”.

Other avenues for salary increases

Although the city’s budget does not include a salary increase, an increase could still be obtained through union negotiations. The School Supervisors and Administrators Council, or CSA, represents about 175 principals, but their contracts have expired almost a year ago and negotiations continue.

“The pay gap is outright discrimination,” the CSA recently tweeted. “Why pay these leaders less? ”

Although the union represents only a small slice of directors, if they manage to secure increases, those gains could be applied to a larger group. This is what happened when the city agreed to increase teachers’ salaries in community-run classes. Amid fears that higher salaries for only a subset of teachers would create new problems in attracting and retaining staff, the city ultimately decided to increase the salary floor for 1,500 non-union teachers as well. .

After successfully making preschool free for all 4-year-olds, Mayor Bill de Blasio is once again expanding access to early childhood education. By dipping into federal money, the city aims to make preschool for 3-year-olds available in every district this year (although there is still no room for every child who should want a place. .) Making 3-K universal by 2023 could face recruiting issues if board salaries are not factored in.

“You really want to keep a high quality staff and you want to be able to make sure, whether you are in a center or a school, that you have a stable workforce that loves what they do,” said Jennifer March. , Executive Director. from the Citizens Campaign for Children advocacy group. “We want to make sure that the workforce, whether you’re in a community organization or a school, is paid well. ”

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