City, labor leaders announce deal to close pay gaps for NYC pre-K teachers in Head Start programs

Hundreds of New York City pre-K teachers who work in Head Start programs could receive a significant pay boost under a proposed labor agreement announced Thursday.

The deal with District Council 37’s Local 95 marks the second recent labor agreement aiming to close the salary gap between teachers at publicly funded but independently run preschool programs, and those who work in public schools. Earlier this year, early childhood teachers had threatened to strike over the disparity, but called off the action at the last minute after the city and preschool operators agreed to come to the bargaining table. 

If ratified by members, certified teachers with a master’s degree would see their pay increase by more than $15,500 by October 2021. That would bring their pay to $68,652, in-line with starting salaries for public school teachers. It’s unclear how many teachers would qualify for the biggest raises: A city spokeswoman said there are about 550 teachers represented by Local 95, but that figure includes uncertified educators.  

Local 95 represents about 2,600 teachers and support staffers — such as assistant teachers, janitors, and cooks — who mostly work in Head Start programs. Though Head Start is primarily federally funded, the city also contributes money, and some Local 95 members are teachers in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K for All program. The agreement is expected to cost the city $7 million through 2023.

The deal represents “well-deserved wage parity that we fought so long for,” Linda McPherson, president of Local 95, said in a statement. “With this agreement, my members are now able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Advocates and teachers have pushed to close the pay gap, which is all the more glaring given that many who work in community-run centers such as Head Start are women of color, while most public school teachers are white. The problem was exacerbated, preschool operators say, when the education department kicked off universal pre-K, and qualified teachers left in droves for the higher salaries afforded in new programs in public schools. 

André Lake — who leads the Head Start Sponsoring Board Council, which represents providers — called the agreement “momentous.” 

“It facilitates employee recruitment and retention,” he said in a statement. 

The proposed contract comes on the heels of an agreement with Local 205, which represents teachers in preschool programs that are run by community organizations. (Both locals were previously part of District Council 1707, which recently merged with DC 37.) Community organizations serve a majority of students enrolled in the city’s universal preschool program. The first of a series of raises under Local 205’s agreement began to take effect this week.  

A majority of the Local 95’s members are support workers, and they will receive a less generous boost than their peers in Local 205. Local 95 members are in-line for a one-time $1,000 ratification bonus — $800 less than their counterparts received. Members in Local 95 would also receive cost of living increases as determined by the federal government. 

But most pre-K teachers still won’t see pay gains, since the majority of those working in publicly funded programs do not belong to a union. City leaders have insisted that the recent labor agreements would serve as a template for paying the rest of the workforce, but haven’t provided details for when non-union teachers can expect a raise, or how much it might be.  

Jennifer March, the director of the advocacy group Citizens’ Committee for Children, said the most recent deal represents “progress,” but she wants to keep the pressure on the city to ensure that all teachers benefit equally from pay raises. 

“We urge continued work,” she said in a statement.