NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk is poised to announce its new provider for the School Readiness program, which has been taken away from the Norwalk Housing Authority, Early Childhood Coordinator Mary Oster said Wednesday.
“We worked on that really today, we spent a lot of time on the phone with the mayor and the superintendent, but we think we are set (with a selection),” Oster said to the Common Council Land Use and Building Management Committee, where the challenges in having different childcare organizations use the Ben Franklin Center and Nathaniel Ely Schools were discussed.
Housing will be out on June 30 and, “We would like our other folks to take over as quickly as possible after that, so hopefully July 5th,” Oster said.
“I am not sure we can get those agreements approved in time for July 1, so I want everyone to know the potential that there will be a new user in the building, a management company in the building that we don’t have a relationship with. … Insurance is the first thing that we require from them so that we are protected, but at the same time July 1 is four weeks away,” Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said.
“We want to make sure the kids are in the program and service is being provided, but at the same time, from a legal relationship, we still need to figure out a way to efficiently manage those issues,” Lo said.
Oster compared the situation to spinning plates.
CDI (Community Development Institute) is running the Head Start program, temporarily, per the feds, but also indefinitely, per the feds. The company was appointed as an interim provider to run the Head Start program after the feds pulled it from the Housing Authority, but is known to stay for years in some instances.
“We think next spring (a call will go out for a permanent provider), that’s what it’s looking like, but nobody has really said that. We don’t know even when that’s going to become available for anybody to even bid on it,” Oster said.
CDI will maintain a presence in the Ben Franklin building through the summer, with one classroom and an office, she said.
School Readiness is a year-round program for pre-schoolers. The company selected by Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski on Wednesday is already providing a School Readiness program in Norwalk, Oster said.
Councilwoman Faye Bowman (D-District B) called Oster on that statement, asserting that such an appointment would have to go through the Council.
Oster said that perhaps she had misspoken.
Rilling, in a Wednesday night email to NoN, said, “We have not had to solicit bids for School Readiness during my administration so I will have to verify the process. We have solicited RFPs and have selected a provider whose proposal was determined to meet our requirements.”
The goal is to split the Head Start program, the School Readiness program and the Child Daycare program and give them to separate organizations, Oster said.
“We are trying to diversify a little bit. You all know the history: We have had NEON in there, we have had the Norwalk Housing Authority in there,” Oster said. “It is a big operation to have somebody go in there run Head Start, run School Readiness, run the Child Daycare contract. … We want to get the very best we can get, but we would like to break it up just a little bit because we think it will be easier to manage.”
“I think the early childhood community is really putting a lot of thought into this,” Oster said. “You know, we have been there once with NEON, once with the Housing Authority, we really need to get it right. These are the poorest kids in our community and we really need to get it right.”
Child Daycare is a year-round program and the Housing Authority had been planning to give it up, anyway, Oster said.
While Oster described the list of procedures for the Ben Franklin building as being long, she said she was “really confident” that the people selected to run School Readiness were up to the task.
“These are people who are currently running childcare programs in Norwalk. They are known to us. They have gone through a selection process. They are business people,” she said.
Currently, the Housing Authority opens the Ben Franklin building and then CDI comes in, she said. The utility bill goes to NHA, which collects the money from CDI, Lo said.
NHA buzzes parents into the space without asking which program they are headed for, Oster said.
Lo said Ely was set up in 1992 with the city paying the utility bills. It’s time to modernize that arrangement, he said.
There has been a memo of understanding with the Housing Authority regarding janitorial services, snow removal and lawn mowing, Lo said.
Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) pressed for an answer as to how the new arrangement would be worked out.
“It’s a relationship that has to evolve. The first step is selecting the firms. Then we’ll sit down and strategize,” Lo said. “… I don’t think there’s any proposal on the table.”
“I really do think we have to sit down and kind of work it out,” Oster said. “Then CDI has to somehow come in and work together.”