De Blasio Pushes Back Against Pre-K Safety Worries

NEW YORK (AP) -

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday strongly defended New York City’s readiness to launch a massive pre-kindergarten expansion against reports of safety problems at some sites.

De Blasio made pre-K the centerpiece of his first year in office. He said Thursday that 50,000 pre-K students have enrolled.

He said he did not know “why any public official would want to leave parents with the impression that there’s danger when there isn’t a danger.”

On Wednesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said the city was far behind schedule in submitting contracts with pre-kindergarten providers, which he says raises possible safety problems with some of the sites.

Stringer said that only 141 of more than 500 contracts have been submitted to his office, even though school starts in just eight days for 50,000 students in the city’s significantly expanded pre-K program. He said failure to provide those contracts to his office — which is required to review all city contracts — is preventing his team from doing safety checks.

“It is risky to be launching a program like this without the proper review,” said Stringer in an interview. “Not getting the contracts means we can’t do our due diligence.”

“We can’t sacrifice safety for expediency,” he said.

The sites that do not have approved contracts will still open Sept. 4, even if the paperwork has yet to be submitted by then to the comptroller. The speedy rollout — New York is trying to do in months what smaller cities like Boston did in years — has cost more than $500 million and comes with massive political stakes for the mayor.

Administration officials pushed back against the comptroller, saying it was common for some contracts to be registered after the start of the school year and insisting that the pre-K sites and employees are being thoroughly vetted by several city agencies.

“Parents can rest assured: These high-quality programs will be ready, they will be safe, and they will meet the very highest standards,” de Blasio said. “We will, of course, make sure the comptroller has the documents he needs to register contracts in a timely way.”

About 600 Department of Education sites will be used for pre-K sites, but since public schools don’t have the space to accommodate all the new students, more than 1,100 community-based organizations like day cares and religious schools will also host the programs. De Blasio has promised that every classroom will be inspected by the first day of school, which has reassured some advocates.

For the first time in a generation, the top officials in New York City government — including Stringer and de Blasio — are all Democrats. And while the leaders have largely walked in lockstep in a liberal agenda, this is not the first time the comptroller has looked to assert his independence from the mayor.

Stringer also criticized de Blasio for an accounting issue on the city budget deal that was reached in June. And he was alone among top Democrats to say it was inappropriate for the mayor to have called the NYPD in February to inquire about the arrest of a political ally.