“We think of the union as an organization that shapes our life while we’re at work,” says Geoff Kurtz, assistant professor of political science at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). “But through the PSC, we got paid parental leave in our contract and we worked to elect a mayor who expanded pre-K.” That illustrates, he said, how union action “can make our whole lives more livable, more humane.”
Kurtz benefited from paid parental leave when his son Lewis was born almost four years ago, and is looking forward to enrolling Lewis in a public pre-kindergarten class this fall.
The PSC was an early supporter of Bill de Blasio’s campaign for mayor, in large part because of his emphasis on increasing support for public education. The union backed Mayor de Blasio’s fight for universal, full-day pre-K, which secured $300 million in State funding this year. The city is now expanding pre-K programs throughout the city, with a goal of offering 53,000 full-day seats by this
September. Next year, the goal is 73,000 slots – “enough for every four-year-old in the city,” reported the NY Daily News.
More than 4,000 of the new pre-K slots will be in programs located in public schools and will be run by the New York City Department of Education. In April, Kurtz and his wife Alyson Campbell applied to two public pre-K schools near their home in Kensington, Brooklyn. Their son Lewis has a good chance of getting into one of them: his elder sister already attends the school, which is the zoned school for their neighborhood. The application deadline for the public school programs was April 23, with parents expected to hear back by early June.
Thousands more new slots will be available at community-based organizations across the city; families can apply to those programs individually. There are varying application deadlines and most slots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. (A list of pre-K options at community organizations is online. Parents can also text 877877 and enter “prek” and their ZIP code to find pre-K programs near them.)
PSC member Jade Michaels lives only a block from the Staten Island Broadway YMCA, which already offers half-day public pre-K. Michaels hopes that her soon-to-be four-year-old son, Eric, will be able to attend full-day pre-K at the Y this fall. She visited the school and is excited about its focus on the whole child and its commitment to building a rich and nurturing environment. Michaels also says that a full-day program will allow her to go to work with ease and prepare her son for the routines of kindergarten.
“Entering kindergarten can be a shock for many five-year-olds,” said Michaels, a Higher Education Assistant at Hunter College’s School of Education. “By having Eric in [pre-K], he will have exposure to the classroom environment and routines so that when he starts kindergarten he will be prepared.”
Michaels has two sons, and with both she was able to benefit from the paid parental leave provided under the PSC contract. “When I became pregnant with the second son, I had so little sick leave and annual leave accrued. I was starting from scratch,” Michaels told Clarion. “Paid parental leave really saved the day, since it guaranteed at least eight weeks of paid leave.” The expansion of pre-K and paid time off for new parents offer additional support in the crucial early years of a child’s development, PSC members say, and children and parents benefit.
Geoff Kurtz knows the reality of not having time off when a new child is born. When his first child was born, paid parental leave at CUNY did not exist. Kurtz remembers how difficult it was to juggle work with the addition of their new daughter to the family. But Kurtz was able to spend eight weeks at home after his son was born.
“It made all the difference in the world to have time together as a family at this unique time. It’s so precious,” said Kurtz. “It was easier for my wife, recovering from childbirth and exhaustion. It was easier for our daughter, because she wasn’t robbed of parental attention.”
Permanent Part of Contract
Originally a pilot program with a limited amount of funds, paid parental leave was made a permanent part of the PSC contract in December 2011. The change is one of several agreements the PSC has negotiated with CUNY since the expiration of the old contract (see Clarion, Dec. 2011).
City College Associate Professor Emily Greble has a son turning four next year. Greble used paid parental leave when he was born, and she is looking forward to enrolling him in pre-K next year when the roll-out for universal full-day classes is set to happen.
“With the combination of more seats in more schools and the subsidizing of community groups, it seems like there are more opportunities, more possibilities,” Greble told Clarion. “I feel more optimistic than I felt a year ago.”
At present, Greble says, her neighborhood of Park Slope has “way too many people and way too few spots” for pre-K, leading to a lot of uncertainty for parents of young children. Greble says parents around her are hopeful that all that is about to change.