Teachers Fear For Special Needs Children

December 12, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

Paul Cassone (right) with parents and students rallying this week.

Paul Cassone (right) with parents and students rallying this week.

Brooklyn, NY – Educators at the Guild For Exceptional Children’s Carrie Mastronardi Early Childhood Education Program could soon be out of a job in the New Year – but this week, they’re much more concerned about what will happen to the 242 special needs children that they teach. 

“As adults, we’ll find somewhere else to go, so we’re not so concerned about ourselves,” Mastronardi music teacher Adrian Fernandez told LaborPress at a rally on Wednesday. “But we want to make sure that the kids have someplace to go, and that their services aren’t interrupted mid-year."

The State Education Department hasn’t raised tuition rates in six years, and that has plunged the 40-year-old Carrie Mastronardi Program as much as $1.4 million into the red. The program, which administers to children with profound developmental challenges inside a facility located at 1273 57thStreet in Brooklyn, is now losing $50,000 a week – and is on track to record a total loss of $600,000 this year alone. 

Without relief from the State Education Department, the head of the Guild for Exceptional Children [GEC] says the organization will have no choice but to pull the plug on the Mastronardi Program on January 23, 2015. 

“What’s frustrating to me, is that our tuition is so low,” GEC Executive Director Paul Cassone told LaborPress. “The State Education Department establishes the tuition in each region for schools. Ours is significantly below the average. The average is $32,500 per child, per year – ours is at $26,500.”

According to Cassone, the CEG’s untenable costs can be attributed to a variety of factors out of its control, including higher rent, increased health insurance for staff, and Workers Compensation. 

“The kids have nowhere to go,” said Peter Lam, one of the parents reliant on the Mastronardi Program to help care for his special needs child. “There is no placement plan for the kids. It’s just not ethical.”

Parents of special needs kids are appealing to the state for help.

Parents of special needs kids are appealing to the state for help.

About 20 staffers with the Mastronardi Program are CSEA Local 1000 members. Metropolitan Region President Lester Crockett, blames the state for failing to keep pace with rising costs, and says that the lives of his members, as well as the children they teach, will be severely impacted should the Mastronardi Program be allowed to sink in January. 

“[Our members] have financial responsibilities to provide for themselves and their families,” Crockett told LaborPress outside the state building on Hanson Place. “But most importantly, they have the heart and patience. This is one of the most difficult jobs for any person to maintain because you have to have a certain kind of heart. A lot of people are not built for it.”

The state had previously employed a built-in mechanism called a “growth factor” that would automatically adjust tuition rates based on an index of rising costs around the city. That, however, hasn’t been the case for more than five years now. 

“That’s really the root of a lot of this difficulty,” Cassone said. “We’ve calculated that if we had gotten a one-percent or two-precent [raise], over the last six years, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

Calls to the State Education Department were not returned, but Cassone says that problems with other providers, as well as a depressed economy, probably contributed to the growth factor being “derailed.” 

“But here we are in 2014, and the state has a pretty big surplus right now,” Cassone said. “It’s time to fix this.” 

December 11, 2014

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