Pouring From an Empty Cup: NYC CBO Early Childhood Directors’ Everyday Struggle

As leaders, we are supposed to be strong. We are the ones who others look to for support, guidance, answers, and solutions. What do we do when WE are the ones who need help? How can we take care of others when we are stressed out from trying to scrape by ourselves? One can not pour from an empty cup.

Many of us are in CSA (Council of School Supervisors and Administrators), ironically the same union as the Department of Education Principals and Assistant Principals. However, we receive a fraction of their salaries and have few of the “perks” that they enjoy. We, as directors are ecstatic that the Master’s, Certified UPK Teachers in Community Based Organization (CBO) Pre-Ks are finally on a “path” to salary parity! These equally qualified educators (mostly women of color) had been doing the same job as those in DOE Pre-K settings for decades, yet were earning tens of thousands less per year. Many of us fought valiantly for our teachers to finally be making (close) to what they deserve, and we still have more work to do with respect to their plight, as well as that of the support staff. 

However, there is yet another group that still needs to be addressed – the directors!! The raises were procured for CERTIFIED Lead UPK Teachers, in large part, because their turnover rate was so high. Many certified directors are also leaving their posts because they cannot afford to stay! One colleague, a 20+ year seasoned director, and CSA Early Childhood member wonders, “Why doesn’t the mayor view this an urgent situation as he did when it was regarding the UPK teachers?” Do the mayor and city officials understand the gravity of programs not having a certified director? [They can not operate]. Can the city afford to have more directors leave due to the ongoing frustration [because of a lack of] salary parity and not being valued?” All important questions for the “powers that be” who love to tout the expansion and success of “Pre-K and 3-K For All” to consider!

CBO Directors run schools year-round, serving some of the city’s most vulnerable student populations. There are no summers off, and forget leaving work before 6pm most nights. Many of us are not entitled to longevity pay. There are no “steps” in our salary scale, as there are in most union contracts, including those in CSA’s DOE agreements. How can we advance? 

“Our salaries haven’t risen as costs have…”, notes Mary Sidewitz, a CSA Pre-K Director, who has worked tirelessly to serve children and families since 1996. On July 1st, 2019, all CBO Pre-K contracts were transferred from ACS to DOE, and we teach most “Pre-K and 3-K For All” children in OUR schools. Why is our base salary lower than that of a FIRST YEAR DOE TEACHER?! We are responsible for supervising teachers to ensure that the same instructional standards as the DOE are followed in our Pre-K classrooms, yet we are not even compensated at the teacher level. That’s a real head-scratcher!

According to the NYC Department of Education website, “For 2019-20, starting salaries for teachers range from $57,845 (bachelor’s degree, no prior teaching experience), to $87,510 (master’s degree, eight years teaching experience, plus additional coursework). New teachers with a master’s degree but no prior teaching experience will earn $65,026. Teachers’ salaries increase each year with more experience and educational qualifications.” In contrast, CSA Early Childhood Directors can currently earn a MAX of $60,991 (according to the most current union contract). Please note that this is BARELY more than a new DOE teacher with a B.A. (who has the summer off)! Most CSA Directors have a Master’s and certification, and of course, many years of teaching experience! If a new contract is not negotiated, the MAX we will receive after 9/30/2020 will be $66,032.70. We must lay the groundwork now for a respectful contract that honors our hard work!

I love my staff, students, and parents. However, love doesn’t pay the bills. CSA Director Ms. Sidewitz laments, “Why did I care about these kids?… I should have worried about myself.” How heartbreaking! Why should she have to make that choice? Many of us who have devoted our careers to helping the underserved are now in “survival mode” ourselves! The majority of CSA ECE directors are women of color, and many are heads of households. 

“As someone who recently got divorced, I am faced with not being able to pay rent…,” states Ms. Sidewitz. Additionally, she inquires, “Why was our medical insurance in retirement [for CSA Early Childhood Directors] taken away from us, but paraprofessionals [teacher’s aides in the Department of Education] get them?” I recently asked someone from the union about paid parental leave and then wondered why I was even asking, as I could never support a family on my current salary! 

I am almost 40 years old, certified and have (almost) two Master’s degrees. I have been working in my field for over 20 years and made a conscious choice to remain in the community-based sector. I enjoy working with a diverse population, using my skills to solve complex problems, and applying my experience to supporting children and families who have many obstacles to overcome. I hate when people ask, “Why don’t you just work somewhere else and make more money?” It really infuriates me, as that is SO not the point!

I want to work at a CBO preschool AND be able to support myself. I want to change the system, so that ALL children and families have access to quality educators and school leaders. CSA Early Childhood Directors should be able to make a decent living, while working in the settings we choose. We should be able to keep our cups full, so that we can give to others who are in need of our care.

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