B’Above – Millions of Dollars – Loopholes and Votes
Contributor May 21, 2016
Quid pro quo relationships and bloc voting have taken over too many communities and have had enormous consequences, adversely affecting those most vulnerable. B’Above was given contracts worth millions in 2012, had violations in some of its facilities including payment for services not received in 2014 and 2015 and in 2016 it is painstakingly difficult to find accurate financial information about the organization and its individual programs.
The Yellow Pages provides a list of B’Above programs, some of which have closed. It is unclear which of the program are receiving what allocations and if closed facilities are still being given allocations of funding. Some of the programs billed as non-sectarian “headstart programs” are in reality early learning religious schools. The religious nature of the programs exempt them from public education reporting.
Currently, there is significant attention being paid to decreases in financial subsidies in New York available to fund education generally, and early learning specifically. More funds are being allocated to the ultra-Orthodox population of children in New York than their proportional numbers justify and they are not accountable to report finances and education programming because the organizations are religious.
There’s an inherent catch-22. On the one hand because many b’Above programs are religious, they are not required to report to ACS or the State in the same terms as non-religious pubic institutions or facilities. On the other hand, the organization’s facilities are advertising to ACS as non-sectarian and are therefore entitled to funding as non-religious facilities. The structure of accountability versus funding allocations are reviewed by different offices within the ACS/NYC education system and money simply falls between the cracks, disappears, is lost or…?
The left hand never quite knows what the right hand is doing and the votes provided by the beneficiary of much of the money, the ultra-Orthodox bloc voting community in Williamsburg, Borough Park and Crown Heights is so significant that glossing over the inefficiencies and waste is more politically worthwhile then being financially accountable to the children who are the ultimate victims.
Is it not time we start asking questions and demanding accountability?
In 2012 the Forward reported:
“Hasidic rabbi’s little-known childcare network has stoked tensions throughout New York City by beating out scores of well-established groups to win a huge contract for subsidized day care programs.
The network, called B’Above Worldwide Institute, is set to receive contracts worth roughly $31 million annually for 3,000 children at 42 day care centers under New York City’s newly reorganized subsidized child care system. That’s 1,000 more children than will be served by the city’s next-largest subsidized child care network. All this for an organization that many in the field say they had never heard of a month ago.
B’Above said that only half of its new seats will serve Jewish children. And other Jewish-run groups have operated subsidized child care programs in non-Jewish communities. But B’Above’s contract is unprecedented in its size, and many of the centers it will run will replace longstanding neighborhood organizations, upsetting delicate political balances and infuriating elected officials representing both Jewish and non-Jewish neighborhoods.
“I don’t know B’Above,” said New York City Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents a Brooklyn district. “They’re certainly not familiar to me at all.” Of some local organizations that had not received funding, James said: “They know the children, they know the neighborhood. Some of these local, community-based organizations have been in existence for over 40 years.”
The city’s reorganization of its subsidized child care system comes as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushes for heavy cuts to these types of programs. City officials have touted the reorganized childcare program, called EarlyLearn NYC, as a more streamlined way to allocate funds for childcare for low-income families. But the program also cuts the total number of childcare slots provided by the city.
Childcare providers currently offering government-subsidized Head Start and other programs were required to reapply for funding through the EarlyLearn program. Advocates and elected officials say that longstanding local programs throughout the city lost out.
Citywide networks fared better than local childcare centers in the allocation process. Groups like Lutheran Social Services of New York, Episcopal Social Services of New York and Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services Inc. received thousands of placements.
Unlike many of the large childcare networks, B’Above does not file annual financial disclosure documents with the Internal Revenue Service, due to its official status as a religious corporation.
When asked under what religion B’Above had received its religious exemption, the organization’s director, Rabbi Eliezer Vogel, said: “We’re Jewish faith.” Then he backtracked: “Our belief really is to serve the most neediest families.”
Some of the largest networks of childcare centers are affiliated with religious Jewish communities. Besides B’Above, three Jewish-linked networks were among the top fifteen networks in terms of the number of slots they were awarded. Many of their slots were awarded in Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Yeled V’Yalda Early Childhood Center, an organization based in Boro Park, Brooklyn, won contracts for 850 seats in 16 locations; All My Children Daycare and Nursery won contracts for 860 seats, many of them in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; and Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov won contracts for 630 seats, many of them in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Not all of these seats will go to Jewish students. But some of the locations, particularly in the case of B’Above, will replace locally run institutions.
“They’re recognized as a religious group,” said Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Day Care Council, a membership organization for publicly funded day care programs. “I question whether some parents will place their children there… Remember, parents have to feel comfortable.”
Advocates and elected officials have criticized the allocation of EarlyLearn contracts for failing to fund longstanding neighborhood institutions.
“EarlyLearn is an early disaster,” said James, the councilwoman. “The members of the City Council are urging the administration to go back to the table to fund the existing providers.”
In Boro Park, Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander condemned the EarlyLearn allocation for cutting off Beth Jacob, a decades-old Head Start program.
A spokesperson for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which oversees EarlyLearn, did not respond to repeated requests for comment submitted by the Forward.
Jewish communal officials contacted by the Forward said that they had never heard of B’Above.
The organization, founded in 1992, currently serves 1,100 students in Queens and Brooklyn at 19 sites. The number of students is set to triple and the number of sites will more than double when the EarlyLearn allocations go into effect in October.
According to Vogel, about a quarter of the children his organization currently serves are Jewish. Nearly half of the children Vogel expects to serve under the EarlyLearn allocations will be Jewish.
Vogel said that his organization had partnered with small yeshivas in Brooklyn, arranging to lease space for subsidized childcare programs in their buildings. Vogel said he had partnered with yeshivas serving a swath of Hasidic sects, including Satmar, Skver and Lubavitch.
B’Above childcare centers are scheduled to open in Boro Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights.
Some of the yeshivas had been reluctant to take government money to run childcare programs inside their buildings, Vogel said, due to concerns about running afoul of laws barring religious content in state-funded educational programming.
“I’ve encouraged many, many of the organizations to just go for it,” Vogel said. “They certainly qualify for the funding, and they should take advantage of it.”
Cultural education, Vogel said, is encouraged. Of ACS, Vogel said: “They understand that Orthodox Jews will have their challah and their foods, just like the other cultures, as long as it’s culture and not religion that’s being taught.”
Vogel, who lived for years in Boro Park before moving to Spring Valley, an Orthodox town in upstate New York, said that he is Hasidic but is not affiliated with any specific sect. He emphasized that his staff is multicultural and that his employees speak nine languages.
Vogel described his organization’s huge success in the EarlyLearn process as almost an accident. “That’s the way it happened to be. It wasn’t something by design beforehand. We won the 3,000 slots by merit, [by] hard work,” he said.
B’Above CAN’T PAY ITS BILLS…
“B’Above WorldWide Institute in Richmond Hill, Queens, loaned $330,050, failed to fix problems with oversight, staffing, records management and curriculum, records show. A representative did not return a call.”
Little-known New York City child care network that won a huge city contract for government-subsidized day care programs has had trouble paying its bills, the Forward has learned.
Less than a month after the group — which is operated by a Hasidic rabbi — opened 20 new subsidized child care sites, it told employees that it would be unable to make payroll, according to an e-mail from the group’s chief financial officer, obtained by the Forward.
The network, called B’Above Worldwide Institute, was relatively unknown until this spring, when the Forward reported that it was set to receive contracts worth roughly $31 million annually for 3,000 children at 42 day care centers across New York City. Previously, it had served just 1,000 children at 19 sites. Critics at the time questioned how the network received so many child care slots — 1,000 more seats than the next-largest child care network.
The organization blames its lack of funds on the city, which it says hasn’t lived up to its funding commitments. The shortfall deepens outstanding questions about EarlyLearn NYC, the city initiative that awarded the new contracts to B’Above.
EarlyLearn NYC constituted a massive reorganization of the process by which the city allocates funds for child care programs for low-income families. City officials have questioned the process by which the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which oversees the program, chose new child care contractors — in many instances, at the expense of longstanding local providers. New York City Comptroller John Liu called the process a “disaster” in a June statement.
EarlyLearn NYC’s child care centers opened for business on October 1. The centers are now serving 45,000 infants, toddlers and preschoolers in scores of sites around the city. The contracts governing the program, however, have not yet been fully approved. Some are still making their way through the city’s lengthy contracting process, and ACS has extended bridge loans to some of the organizations to help them cover their bills as they await payment from EarlyLearn NYC.
In an email to his staff on October 24, B’Above CFO Jeffrey Stern blamed ACS for his organization’s inability to pay salaries. ACS “has not provided any funding to us for the EarlyLearn program,” Stern wrote. “Until we receive funding from ACS, any payments due our sites, for payroll, leasing, or otherwise will not be met.”
Stern alleged that ACS had promised payments and a bridge loan until the contract was approved but asserts that neither came through.
B’Above has received over $600,000 in disbursements from ACS since August, according to an online database maintained by the comptroller’s office. It’s unclear how much of the EarlyLearn commitment to B’Above that amount represents. The most recent payment of $30,000 was made on October 18, less than a week before B’Above announced it couldn’t make payroll.
It’s not certain whether B’Above’s cash flow problems continue. Stern did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Rabbi Eliezer Vogel, B’Above’s director, also did not respond to a request for comment. When reached by phone, Steve Kaplan, the group’s assistant director, said he could not comment.
In a statement, ACS said that it was doing its best to ensure that the child care agencies received the city dollars they were owed. “The Administration for Children’s Services continues to work diligently so that EarlyLearn NYC providers are compensated; the vast majority are currently receiving payment directly or via loans,” the agency wrote. “We are working with the remaining providers to facilitate the signature and submission of their contracts.” A spokesperson for ACS could not comment specifically about B’Above, nor could a spokesperson at the comptroller’s office.
In his e-mail to staff, Stern wrote that the organization had spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars preparing sites so that they could receive the proper licensing.
Some of B’Above’s troubles could stem from the apparently unique model that Vogel described to the Forward in May. The Hasidic rabbi — who lives in the Orthodox upstate town of Spring Valley, N.Y. — told the Forward that his organization had partnered with small yeshivas in Brooklyn that were leasing space to him to run the subsidized child care programs.
Many of the B’Above network’s child care locations are in the Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods of Boro Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights.
While some other EarlyLearn NYC providers are essentially continuing previous arrangements with ACS under the new EarlyLearn NYC contracts, B’Above’s massive growth means that many of its locations are new and therefore could require substantial investments. That could mean that the organization was making a gamble that revenue would help balance cash flow — a gamble that went sour in late October, when city funding didn’t come through.
Though the EarlyLearn NYC issue drew significant attention back in the spring — as members of the City Council complained that longstanding child care providers in their districts had lost city contracts in the reorganization — the issue seems to have been wiped off the table amidst the struggle to recover from the massive hurricane. Even as children begin to enter EarlyLearn NYC programs, council members who had previously organized hearings on the issue are not returning phone queries, while their spokespeople explain that they have been spending their time in the city’s flood-ravaged neighborhoods. Even spokespeople at city agencies say that the flooding has taken up much of their time and energy.
The issue, however, is certain to gain new traction in the coming months, as budget conversations resume in the City Council.”
Description: Be Above Worldwide Institute –
Be Above #27 is a ACS Contracted Preschools in BROOKLYN NY. It has maximum capacity of 176 children. The center accepts children ages of: 2 YEARS – 5 YEARS.
License Number: 27737
Age Range: 2 YEARS – 5 YEARS
Enrolled in Subsidized Child Care Program: No
Additional Information: Certified to Administer Medication; Years in Operation: 3
District Office: New York City Department of Health
District Office Phone: 311 or (212) NEW-YOR (Note: This is not the facility phone number.)
Community Facility – B Above 16 Child Care
189-26 Linden Blvd, Queens, NY 11412
Type Child Care Center
Features Group Child Care Center,Preschool
Description Group child care center.
Displayed Hours Mon – Fri: 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Street Address 189-26 Linden Blvd
Neighborhood St. Albans
ZIP Code 11412
Coordinates 40° 41′ 30″ N, 73° 45′ 43″ W