More than 70 percent of the prekindergarten provider contracts for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's signature program have not been submitted to Comptroller Scott M. Stringer for review and registration, and the school year starts in one week, the comptroller said Wednesday.
Stringer's office has received only 141 of 500 contracts needed from universal pre-K vendors, which oversee the sites where about 50,000 4-year-olds are to begin school on Sept. 4, Stringer said. His office's responsibility to ensure student safety is compromised, he said.
Contracts do not have to be registered for pre-K programs to begin and, by comparison, only 22 percent were registered by the start of the school year in 2013, a spokesman for the mayor said.
De Blasio, in a statement, said the FDNY and the departments of education, health and investigations are involved in the scrutiny process. "Parents can rest assured: these high-quality programs will be ready, they will be safe, and they will meet the very highest standards," he said, adding that Stringer will receive the remaining contracts in a "timely way."
Stringer told Newsday his office provides the broadest review and serves as a crucial check and balance. He said he met with de Blasio Wednesday and both want to ensure the "integrity" of the pre-K program.
"We're going to get this right, but we always want to ensure safety over expediency," Stringer said. The large scale of the initiative's launch means "a lot of new vendors are not in the system right now" and must be reviewed even more carefully, Stringer said.
Compounding concerns, the contracts received by the comptroller's office include one vendor with a former employee charged with conspiracy to commit child pornography and another with six violations for failing to screen personnel with the state Central Register of Child Abuse and Mistreatment, Stringer said. De Blasio provided documentation to show those issues had been addressed, both parties confirmed.
About 50,000 students are expected to enroll next week in the free, full-day pre-K, which the mayor promised for every 4-year-old. Last year, 20,000 signed up for pre-K. The mayor locked horns with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over how to fund the program, with the governor eventually agreeing to provide $300 million and avoid a tax hike on wealthy city residents.