For decades, Community Based Organization preschools in NYC have been the main source of “PreK For All” seats for the city’s children, and are now single-handedly making the “3K” expansion that the mayor brags about a reality.
Most of the children and families served in CBOs are the most underprivileged in all of the five boroughs. The hardworking and dedicated staff who work in these schools, mostly women, many of color, are equally qualified with their counterparts in DOE buildings, but are still being paid tens of thousands of dollars less. Even with the supposed “pathway” to parity for lead teachers, due to the fact that longevity is not considered for CBO teachers as it is in the DOE, and the lack of regular raises, those teachers are still being jipped with respect to compensation. Many work year-round, and for longer hours than their DOE colleagues. Also, due to the fact that most CBO pre-ks are non-unionized, there are still countless teachers, support staff, and leaders toiling in schools without health insurance. Yes, even throughout the pandemic! Recently, the mayor and city council passed their budget without including money for pay parity for the fearless leaders of CBO pre-ks. Abhorrent! One such leader below shares her thoughts on what that salary parity, if and when it is ever achieved, would mean to her.
Ms. Tamika Williams-Barr, an Education Director at a CBO preschool in Manhattan, answers the question, “What does salary parity mean to me? What it means to me is equality, fairness and appreciation. The same exact qualities and credentials needed to hold this position should automatically afford me the parity. It costs money, time and even a few sacrifices to obtain the necessary credentials for administrative positions and to not receive the same salary is just not fair. Salary parity will also allow me to better provide for my family. Part of the goal and my mission is to ensure that my children are afforded the best in life. This is not solely material things but spiritual, moral aspects. I lead my house by example. I have worked hard to achieve every success that I have and for every accomplishment. What I show my children is that you put the work in, always give 100% and in due season, you will reap your rewards.”
Ms. Williams-Barr’s words ring very true to me. She is echoing the way I feel as well. I am a CBO pre-k Education Director in the Bronx, and I literally can not make ends meet. I make approximately $40,000 to $60,000 LESS than my DOE counterparts! I have more qualifications than most of them and over 20 years of experience in the field. It’s really just unfathomable. I do not even have children as of this moment, so I cannot imagine how difficult her struggles must be as a parent who is simply trying to provide for her family.
I don’t own an apartment. How could I? Prices go up, rent goes up. Everything seems to go up except for CBO pre-k staff’s salaries! More than half of the teachers and staff on our payroll make just above minimum wage (a few cents to a dollar over $15/hr). This is unacceptable for people working in Pre-K For All and 3K classrooms, and those serving the city’s most vulnerable children and families in any other part of our building too – cooking kids’ meals, helping parents in the office, or keeping the school clean and safe.
As leaders of CBO pre0ks, we are tasked with endless responsibilities, few resources, and inadequate support. We are now technically “under” DOE and are supposed to be their partners. However, we feel like stepchildren, instead. How can we truly be equal partners when those of us in CBOs who teach DOE children and run DOE sites are paid so much less?
As Ms. Williams-Barr so eloquently states, “Parity says, I see that you have worked equally as hard and you deserve what should be afforded to you. Parity says, what they did and what you did is exactly the same and fairness is to give you the same.”
Until everyone – school leaders, custodians, teachers, teacher’s aides, office staff, and all other members of the CBO preschool community receive the same pay as our DOE counterparts, equity will not exist in the NYC Early Childhood system. For now, it will only be a slogan for a sign at a bus stop, a catchy phrase for a politician to use, or a buzz word repeated in meeting after meeting – in other words, completely meaningless. In order for equity to ever be a reality, salary parity for ALL needs to be achieved!