Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut the funding across the board on agencies that provide services to the developmentally delayed population was the final nail for Putnam County’s only preschool that focuses on children with severe communication delays or learning difficulties, pervasive developmental disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.
On Wednesday, March 20, Putnam ARC announced it will close its PARC Preschool Program in August. PARC Preschool, located at 125 Baldwin Place Road in Mahopac, is PARC’s founding program and dates back to 1954, the year PARC was officially incorporated.
“As the executive director of PARC for the last 12 ½ years, this is the hardest decision I have had to make with our Board of Directors,” said Susan Limongello. “The preschool has always been a special program in our community with outstanding staff and incredible results for the children of our area. Due to the current fiscal environment in
New York State, this was a necessary but difficult decision that will impact PARC well into the future.”
PARC preschool currently has 53 children, ages 3-5, enrolled in the program. Of those 53 children, 42 are graduating in June. PARC preschool currently employees 47 full and part time staff members. In addition to school-based programs and services, the preschool staff members also perform 70- 80 multidisciplinary evaluations annually.
The decision to close the preschool came after years of debate and careful consideration, according to Limongello.
“The primary reason for the school’s closure is directly related to reimbursement rates from the New York State Education Department (SED), rates that do not even cover the costs of the children’s education,” said Limongello.
Here are some of the facts related to SED, funding, and the preschool deficit:
1. SED’s Division of Budget declined PARC’s appeal on June 12, 2012 to re-base its preschool program rates. It has been working on this re-base for several years.
2. The current rates for school year 2012-2013 are 15 percent less than the rates from the 2005-2006 school year.
3. Over the past 12 years, PARC Preschool has generated a combined deficit of $3,038,519.
4. The deficit over the past 12 years is directly related to increased costs for education and reduced rates from SED.
Additionally, the governor’s proposal would translate into a $1.2 million loss in revenue for ARC of Putnam, Executive Director Susan Limongello said last week.
“Over the past three years, Putnam ARC has taken over $1 million in cuts. These newest cuts will directly impact the staff members who provide critical services to children and adults with developmental disabilities,” Limongello said. “We are anticipating reducing our workforce which will put the most vulnerable Putnam County residents at risk. These cuts could also have a lifechanging impact for families who depend on Putnam ARC for vital programs and services.”
For families with children who are slated to attend or receive services from PARC preschool for another year staff members will be assisting those families and school districts to find alternate placement.
The closure date of August 9 is the official end of the preschool’s summer (extended school year) session. The preschool will host its final graduation for the class of 2013 in June.
”In an attempt to fill any educational voids created by the closure of the PARC Preschool, PARC’s executive team is actively seeking another SED-approved provider to take over the program, so that the vital services provided to young children with special needs in this community can continue,” said Limongello.
The community and local officials have come out as advocates for PARC.
“I know that many of our SEPTO (Special Education Parent Teacher Organization) parents, myself included, have children who have been through the PARC program,” Susan Morse, vice president of Mahopac SEPTO. “This announcement was made on the same day as a CDC survey was released that indicated that one in 50 school age children has autism. Early childhood special education programs are essential to helping children with disabilities overcome obstacles. It opens the door to success. Without programs, such as those provided by PARC Preschool, our children are at risk.”
State Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) showed his support and reached out to some additional help to fix the situation.
“We are now left with a very large void to fill for our most vulnerable population,” said Ball. New York State is making cuts to the bone in ways that will cost us in a big way moving forward. I am pleading with this governor and my legislative colleagues to not be penny wise and pound foolish. Programs like these are vital and save taxpayers millions, if not billions, in the long run.” He called Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D- Cold Spring) for help.
“It is a state issue, but I am here to be an advocate for my constituents,” said Rep. Maloney. “PARC is important to the community.”
At the Legislative Forum for People with Disabilities that was held on March 23 at Putnam Hospital Center elected officials from both sides of the aisle agreed that something needs to be done.
“We need to restore their funding,” said Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining). “Then we need to have the reimbursement rates looked at.” The teachers of the preschool attended the forum and they were not there about losing their jobs.
“When we found out about the closing we all had the same thought,” said Elizabeth Mancusi, a teacher at PARC Preschool. “Where will the children go?”