Ridgeites move to save GEC pre-school

A recent decision by the Ridge-rooted Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC) to close its long-standing pre-school center has led local movers and shakers to piggyback on an online petition started by the Guild’s own Executive Director Paul Cassone.

The not-for-profit – founded in 1958 by family and friends of those with developmental disabilities – announced on Wednesday, November 5 that it will close its Carrie Mastronardi Early Childhood Education Program, Universal Pre-K and all associated services as of January 25, 2015 due to what Cassone called “unsustainable losses caused by an unrealistically low tuition.

“Despite rent, utility and other increases, its tuition has been frozen for six years and is substantially below the regional average for Kings County,” wrote Cassone on a Change.org petition that, in less than two weeks, has garnered over 800 signatures urging state legislators to save the school.  “This has caused losses that will near $2,000,000 over a three year period.

“Since the NYS Department of Education has refused to address the problem, the GEC announced it must close to avoid jeopardizing the wellbeing of the vulnerable adults with developmental disabilities in its care,” he went on.

Cassone told the press that, despite repeated requests, the department has failed to provide the necessary tuition release and so the Guild’s pre-school – which currently serves more than 200 developmentally disabled children in languages from English and Spanish to Cantonese and Mandarin – will close so that the rest of the Guild may operate as is.

According to the Guild, the State Education Department (SED) will be seeking certified and approved pre-school providers to submit proposals through an RFP process to utilize the space and take over the program. Cassone hopes that, down the road, the children currently served by the GEC might be able to stay together.

“The Guild is taking this measure with extreme sadness, as we have been a pioneer in the early childhood education movement, providing services to infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities since the 1960s,” Cassone said.

Area residents want to see Albany fix the situation.

“It is imperative to rebase the tuition rate to the regional average to avoid the shutdown of this necessary pre-school program, a program for the most needy of children,” wrote local resident Barbara Slattery when she signed the petition.

Josh Pesin, a special education teacher at the Guild for the last 13 years, agreed.

“With every year that I teach, I see amazing growth in all the children, particularly in those who are most delayed,” he wrote, stressing that the GEC provides families with a level of support he’s never seen before.

Local pols like Councilmember Vincent Gentile are weighing in as well.

“For over 50 years, GEC has delivered a thousand times over for people with developmental disabilities. The GEC tuition rate has been way below the regional average for many years. Bringing the tuition to the regional average would preserve services for these vulnerable children and prevent closure,” he said. “The New York State Education Department is ignoring the needs of Brooklyn families by failing to provide tuition rates that keep pace with the cost of living in our city. You can’t tie GEC’s hands and then expect them to win a fight.”

To sign the petition, visit http://chn.ge/1HbkzPJ.

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