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Currents, a nightly Catholic news program featuring local and national events and interviews, highlighted the living wage crisis that HeartShare is facing:
“HeartShare was established in 1914 and we have group homes, day programs and education programs for children and adults with disabilities. Our Early Childhood Programs were established in 1982. We service children from 3-5 years old and have a school-age program for children ages 5-21 with autism spectrum disorders,” said Carol Verdi, HeartShare Vice President of Education Services of the resources available for children diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The crisis at HeartShare is both financial and ethical. Universal Pre-K mandates that pre-school teachers be paid at Department of Education rates, around $50,000 per year (for those with a Master’s degree), but for seven years, the special education teachers who worked alongside them in integrated classrooms have been stuck at $38,000 because New York State hasn’t increased its funding for pre-school special education.
“It becomes a real ethical dilemma. New York City is telling our teachers to go to their administration and that the money is there,” Verdi explained. “When you couple that with the fact that food service workers are going to be making, hopefully for them, $15/hour and our Teacher Assistants, who need a New York State license and up to 18 college credits, make a starting salary of $8.75/hour. It’s really very difficult for us to open our doors in September. Although we always lose staff to New York City Department of Education or Nassau County, which pay more, this year is critical. I’ve lost fifteen teachers across five sites,” said Verdi, referring to HeartShare’s four First Step pre-schools and The HeartShare School for children ages 5-21.
“I have been with HeartShare for 33 years and I have seen children who have come through our doors (as pre-schoolers) graduate college and maintain jobs…you see the results. It works, yet it’s not funded. We’ve been to our local legislators, both Senate and Assembly, who have been very open to hearing what our plight is. We’ve been to the New York State Education Department. In fact that department made a recommendation to the Department of Budget for a 3.1 percent increase for this upcoming 2015-16 school year, but we haven’t heard anything yet,” Verdi noted.
Many elected officials have been responsive to HeartShare staff and are hoping for Gov. Cuomo to become a champion for special needs children and for the teachers who educate them. “We’re organizing through the Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies, a rally outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office to appeal to him to help us. We need him to be the representative to say what you’re doing matters for children.”
The rally calling on Gov. Cuomo to support special education will be held in front of the Governor’s office, 633 3rd Avenue, this upcoming Tuesday, August 25, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.