Children’s Aid mom sues to keep kids’ programs running
By Albert Amateau
The Children’s Aid Society’s board of trustees made it official last week, voting to sell its three Sullivan St. buildings and close its model children’s programs by June 2012.
Prompted because Children’s Aid programs in the increasingly affluent Village contradict the society’s 150-year-old mission to serve poor children, the impending sale has provoked an outcry of concern by parents, education advocates and community leaders.
Even before the Dec. 16 trustees vote, the mother of a child in the nursery school filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court seeking to compel the society to keep its programs in the Village open at least until June 2013.
Moreover, Jo Hamilton, chairperson of Community Board 2, and Keen Berger, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Social Services and Education Committee, sent a Dec. 15 letter to the society seeking to discuss potential entities to take over the services for children. The letter notes that the society property provides a needed service in a community woefully short of early childhood services and public school seats.
“We would like to explore every opportunity to ensure that your buildings will continue to provide our children with appropriate and needed space,” said the letter, which went to elected officials representing the Village, Chelsea and the Lower East Side.
Luke McGrath, the lawyer representing the mother of a 2-year-old in the school, filed the lawsuit on Dec. 14 to delay the trustees’ vote. But after Children’s Aid lawyers said at a Dec.16 hearing that the school would not close before June 2012, Justice Eileen Rakower allowed the vote to proceed, pending a Feb. 1 hearing on an order to keep the program open for an additional year.
McGrath told the newspaper that the suit is seeking to keep the three-year program for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds open until 2013 to allow 2-year-olds entering in 2011 to complete the program.
“Parents are already applying to nursery schools and there are no seats available,” McGrath explained.
While Richard R. Buery Jr., Children’s Aid executive director, had said in a Nov. 30 letter to parents first announcing the proposed sale that the program would not close before June 2012, McGrath said that parents had sought a written legal guarantee that the program would continue to 2012, but the society did not comply.
“This issue is important to the community hit by budget and service cuts and the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital,” said McGrath, whose client, Viviane Bromberg, is his wife. Their daughter goes to the school.
The society’s building at 219 Sullivan St., known as the Philip Coltoff Center, has been serving the Village since 1892, and the Early Childhood Center, at 175-177 Sullivan St., has served the Village for nearly 30 years.
In response to the impending sale, parents and education advocates organized an ad-hoc group, SAVE (Save A Village Education), to work with the society to find a way to keep the nursery school open after a sale.
In addition, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has called on the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to calendar a hearing on G.V.S.H.P.’s proposal to designate the Sullivan St. stretch where the buildings are located as an extension of the South Village Historic District to prevent inappropriate development of the property.
But an L.P.C. spokesperson noted earlier this week that the commission had designated part of G.V.S.H.P.’s proposal — calling it instead a Greenwich Village Historic District extension — just to the east in June and was now concentrating on more than 3,000 other potential individual landmarks and district designations in other parts of the five boroughs.