The Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC) has run its preschool in Borough Park for 40 years, offering services to children ages 2.5 to five with mental disabilities. But in the past three years, the school has lost nearly $2 million, and GEC can no longer afford to keep the services running.
Funding for GEC’s preschool comes from SED, but the tuition has been frozen for a six-year period and is not nearly high enough to cover costs in the first place.
GEC Executive Director and CEO Paul Cassone said that the school’s tuition rate of $26,500 per child per year falls below the region’s $32,000 average. The combination of a low tuition and SED freezing the tuition payments has made sustaining the school impossible.
“Rent has gone up, health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance,” Cassone explained. “We provide services in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian when necessary, because we’re obligated to provide services in the native language of the children. So this has caused us to lose around $50,000 a month at this point.”
The school currently serves 242 children, using integrated classrooms to serve both children with special needs and students with normal development who are enrolled in universal pre-K.
Parents, students and community members rallied outside of the Brooklyn office of SED last Wednesday, calling for the department to fund the school and keep it open.
Margaret Pawelkiewicz of Bensonhurst has a four-year-old son, Alexander, in the school to help him with speech therapy.
“My son has a speech delay, so he started services there and he’s doing great in a matter of two months, and now they’re suddenly just going to cut the plug,” Pawelkiewicz said.
The mother of two was told, along with the other parents, of the school’s closure in November. Right now, if nothing is changed in terms of funding, the school will close on January 23.
“You can’t just disrupt these kids, especially if they’re just learning how to process things,” she said. “They have new friends, they have their routine down with the teachers and now to just stop it all, it’s devastating for everyone.”
Cassone said that the school’s closure is not a done deal. The program is out to bid for other nonprofit children’s educational services to pick up, though Cassone said all of the organizations he has spoken with have said they cannot run the program at the low tuition that is currently in place.
And even though GEC has been working with SED for two years to try and work out funding to no avail, Cassone is still hopeful that funding might come through before January.
“I’m hoping for the best and looking for some optimism,” Cassone said. “We obviously have a fairly large group of people who are happy with our school, and we would love to be able to continue to educate them.”