Child care providers make a last stand for lost contracts

A public hearing on Friday on $2.2 billion in new city child care contracts turned into a boisterous rally for parents and proprietors from existing centers scheduled to close this fall, who railed against the process used by the city Administration for Children’s Services to select its new providers.

“We’ve won three awards for our performance,” testified Beverly Campbell of the Afro-American Parents Educational Centers, among them a 2009 award for children’s advocacy from then ACS Commissioner John Mattingly. “We took over three failing day care centers and brought them to excellence. But on our [application], we still didn’t qualify.”

Campbell and dozens of other child care providers have had their city contracts eliminated or downsized with the arrival of EarlyLearn NYC, which will bring together education, child care, nutrition and other services into a single, integrated program for 50,000 children ages 6 weeks to 4 years old. In his statement earlier this year announcing the program, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called EarlyLearn NYC an “opportunity to transform the system from the ground up.”

That transformation included a rebidding of all contracts in a competitive process, which left as many as half of ACS child care contractors not recommended for EarlyLearn NYC. The program devotes most of its funding to the city zip codes with the most children in need, as measured by household income and levels of enrollment in government support programs. Campbell is preparing to shut the doors of three of her four southeast Queens child care centers. The fourth will be taken over by another organization, All My Children Nursery and Day School, which is set to receive $68.5 million in EarlyLearn contracts for 15 locations in Brooklyn and Queens.

By Campbell’s approximation, about 550 children and their families will be affected when the centers close in October; ACS will give them top priority for slots at child care centers in their neighborhoods.

“I’m still trying to understand it, honestly,” she said in a phone interview afterward. “And I’m not the only person going through this.”

ACS graded each agency that applied for an EarlyLearn contract on a 100-point scale, with 40 awarded for an organization’s day care plan, another 40 for the organizational structure, and the final 20 for an organization’s history and experience in the community it sought to serve. Campbell’s application received a 67, seven points shy of the cutoff below which applications were not considered.

“EarlyLearn NYC proposals were evaluated using an objective process which considered factors such as a proposer’s relevant experience in the community or with comparable populations, demonstrated commitment to diversity and culturally sensitive practices, demonstrated level of organizational capacity and quality of proposed approach,” said an ACS spokesperson in an emailed statement.

At the hearing, many providers expressed frustration that they could not find out information about the contract decisions beyond the number score they received. Karen Daughtry, executive director of the Alonzo A. Daughtry Memorial Day Care Center in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, scored a 66.3, and filed a Freedom of Information Law request with ACS for details on how the center’s application was graded. She said the agency informed her that her request would not be answered until after October — when all the new contracts had been finalized and after her center lost its funding.

The largest contract is set to go to BAbove World Wide, a Head Start provider that will receive more than $168 million for 41 facilities. In all, 154 organizations received contracts out of 282 that applied.

Many families whose centers are slated to close won’t notice a change, because new groups will be coming in to run existing facilities. The Horace E. Greene Day Center will close in October after serving Bushwick families for 43 years. The Bushwick United Housing Development Fund Corporation, a longtime Head Start provider, will be taking over that location, along with seven other sites.

“My son went to that day care center; he’s 26 now. My daughter went there. She’s 29 now,” said Robert Camacho, vice-chair of the Bushwick Improvement Society, which runs the Greene center. It lost the competition even though it scored a 97 out of 100 possible points on its application, Camacho said. His group is now left with one facility, in Williamsburg.

Camacho testified at the contract hearing that shutting off funding and shunting kids to new providers is like uprooting a household. “What if I just took your kids out of their home and put them with another family? They wouldn’t like it,” he said. At the hearing, he vowed to continue protesting until his Bushwick contract was restored.

“We’re going to keep fighting. The community is going to keep fighting.”

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