Parents and staff at the Montauk Child Care Center are asking East Hampton Town to take over the operation of the Center after the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, which has operated the center since 2006, announced Jan. 29 that they are discontinuing their contract to run the facility, which is at the town-owned Montauk Playhouse on Edgemere Street.

Several parents brought their young children to the East Hampton Town Board’s Feb. 1 meeting as they shared their struggles to find child care, and also shared their worries that no other agency will step up to provide the essential services when the EOC discontinues running the center on May 3, 2024. The town issued a request for proposals for a new operator that night.

“This decision was not made lightly, and we understand the impact it will have on area families and the community-at-large,” said Adrian Fassett, President and CEO of EOC of Suffolk, in its Jan. 29 announcement. “We extend our deepest gratitude to the Montauk community for their trust and support over the past 17 years. We are proud of the role we have played in the lives of so many families and we remain dedicated to serving the community through our other programs and services.”

“Despite a strong commitment and concerted efforts to maintain the center, EOC of Suffolk has faced escalating operational costs, particularly in staffing, compounded by the recent national surge in inflation,” said the EOC in their announcement that they will no longer run the facility. “Additionally, the center has consistently operated under the required enrollment levels for sustainability.”

But Kelly Bloss, an assistant teacher at the facility, told the Town Board the low enrollment was “a direct byproduct of the number of teachers available to safely care for children ages two months to five years. The staff shortages are due to the high cost of living in the area, and the inability of sustaining a daily commute from as far west as Shirley. But just like we need affordable housing, we need affordable and available child care. The demand far exceeds the supply.”

“The Montauk Child Care Center has been a thread that has held together the communities of not just Montauk, but Springs, Amagansett and East Hampton,” said parent Fallon Nigro. “It’s the only center that takes in children under 18 months old east of Southampton.”

“Employees at the Center are making $1,100 every two weeks after taxes. It’s impossible to keep people employed — that’s well below the cost of housing in the community,” she added. “Most people assume the Hamptons is a rich and well-to-do area, but locals are struggling to make ends meet.”

Melissa Brennan, a single mother who works in Amagansett said the “teachers and parents (at the center) became my village, and make it possible for my daughter to thrive out here. We need to make sure teachers and staff are adequately compensated for the amazing effort they put in every day.”

Business owner David Piacente of Naturally Good Foods said his son goes to the center, which enables both himself and his wife, a nurse in Southampton, to work.

“I have three employees, and two are single moms that have children here,” he said. “Everybody thinks they have child care locked up going into the season, but this would mean them not coming in to work for me. Businesses can’t operate without workers.”

Ms. Bloss recommended the town hire the existing staff at the Center and authorize Center Director Pilar Prado to continue to run it. She pointed out that the town ran a child care center more than 20 years ago and currently funds the Eleanore Whitmore Child Care Center in the Village of East Hampton.

“Paying premiums to a third party means the funds flow outside Montauk, when they could be used for the children,” she said. “Pilar and her family are longstanding members of the Montauk community. She’s been running the center for years. She knows the businesses, families, staff and children. It has been operating on its own, with an arms-length relationship with the parent company.”

Ms. Nigro went a step further, suggesting the Child Care Center workers become a part of the town’s CSEA civil service workers union, and pointed out that the employees there worked throughout the pandemic to provide child care for other essential workers.

“The day care is in a town building, after all,” she said. “The employees deserve a fair wage that meets the cost of living…. This is the right and just thing to do for the community. During the pandemic, we were praising the workers, and now they’re being let out to dry. I believe you, the East Hampton Town Board, hold the key.”

Town Councilman David Lys said he understands the concerns — his four children all attended the Montauk Child Care Center.

He said the Town Board “is in support of quality, affordable child care. That’s top priority right now. We’ll work hard to get some kind of real quick and sturdy resolution to this.”

The Town Board’s Request for Proposals (RFP) to run the Center, approved at the Feb. 1 meeting, is asking for sealed bids to be received at Town Hall by no later than 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27. A pre-proposal meeting and site visit will be held on Monday, Feb. 12 at 11 a.m. Bid specifications are available by emailing jcarroza@ehamptonny.gov or purchasing@ehamptonny.gov.

Parent Casey Boyle asked if the town thought 90 days was really enough time to find a competent operator and maintain the quality of child care offered there.

Town Councilman Tom Flight, of Montauk, said EOC has made clear they won’t be running the center after May 3.

“We have to find the best operator, and they will be reviewed with compassion and understanding of what this means to Montauk,” he said.

“It strikes me as odd that an RFP has been written and let to the street without any involvement at least from the administrator,” said Ms. Bloss. “The staff has not had any formal communication from EOC of Suffolk. People are scrambling for child care, and scrambling for their jobs.”

Mr. Flight said the town needed to prepare the RFP quickly to find out all its options before EOC leaves, and must by law go through a competitive bidding process.

“If Pilar was to be the operator, we can’t just close the process to just her,” he said. “It needs to be a blind bid, as much as possible…. Montauk is unique in its nature. My kids have been there. I get the challenges. When we review the proposals, we will take that into context.”

He added that the town can’t comment on whether it would fund the center while the RFP process is underway.


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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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