In Nassau County, pre-K special ed. providers may get substantial raise


A sector of special education services for young children has been severely underfunded for 25 years, according to some lawmakers — but that could soon change.

Nassau County officials propose giving those early childhood intervention service providers a raise, potentially elevating compensation from $40 per half-hour to $50.

The increase will affect providers who officer critical preschool services — like speech, occupational and physical therapy — to children between 3 and 5 with special needs as they get ready for kindergarten.

“We have many people who require services here,” County Executive Bruce Blakeman said of contractual preschool special education services. “It provides preschool services to children throughout Nassau County.”

Joined at a recent news conference with Republican county leaders like Michael Giangregorio, Samantha Goetz and Mazi Pilip, as well as dozens of educators and parents of children with special needs, Blakeman described the county’s compensation for such providers as “below the average.”

Giangregorio brought this issue to light, the county executive said. He’s long been an advocate for children and adults with special needs, and says the county has had a hard time retaining therapists because compensation simply was not competitive to what was being offered in surrounding regions.

“We checked with our budget office and we made a determination that we could increase” the compensation, Blakeman said.

Giangregorio, who’s district represents parts of Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh and Seaford, said he was honored to stand with Blakeman for this “monumental decision that reflects our unwavering commitment to early childhood education.” Especially as a father of someone with autism.

“My son is now 23, so the last time he received (pre-K special education) services was quite a while ago, and there has not been a raise since he’s been in the system,” Giangregorio said. “Back then, it was difficult to find providers. These people that come into your homes, or that work in agencies — they’re really doing God’s work. They’re helping to improve the lives of these individuals.”

The earlier a child receives services, Giangregorio said, the better the outcome.

“My child will be an adult longer than he’s a child,” the county legislator said. “The costs are always more when you’re an adult. For far too long, the wages of these early intervention educators and therapists have not reflected the true value of their work.”

Dr. Irina Gelman, the county’s health commissioner, explained her office has to go before the county’s health board to propose the raise.

“We are very grateful for this opportunity to bring this forward in front of our board,” she said. “We’re very hopeful they will adopt this new rate, which will be instrumental in providing services to our children, our families, and adequately reimburse our providers. These are rates for preschool related services that have not been raised since 1999 — so it’s long overdue.”

But Democrats in the county legislature say the need for raises has not been a secret. Siela Bynoe, for instance, says she has advocated for preschool special education funding for nearly a decade — especially so in the last few months.

“While I am glad that the county executive has heeded the advocacy of practitioners and the Democratic minority by taking this first step, much more must still be done to repair the damage caused by three decades of stagnation,” she said. “Moving forward, the county must raise awareness about the availability of these resources, and remain vigilant so that we can never again find ourselves paying the lowest rates in New York for these critical services.”

The raise, if approved, will be appreciated by families, according to Jon Feingold, the executive director of the Hagedorn Little Village School, a publicly funded, nonprofit school for children with developmental disabilities in Seaford.

“Sadly, there has been a shortage of these clinicians and it’s been difficult to attract and to retain those staff members to provide these essential services to families,” he said. “With this increase, we take a giant step towards helping to address that.”