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Top NYC early childhood official leaves amid crisis in preschool payment delays

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A top New York City early childhood official has left during an ongoing crisis in which providers aren’t being paid on time, forcing some to close.

Simone Hawkins, who oversaw payments to city-funded preschools and served as executive director for operations in the education department’s early childhood division, left the agency Oct. 21, just two days after testifying at a City Council hearing focused on late payments to providers.

Deputy Chancellor Kara Ahmed, in an email bulletin last Friday, who now oversees early childhood education, said that Hawkins’ departure had been in the works for “several weeks” and praised her “extraordinary leadership.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a former staffer in the early childhood division said employees working under Hawkins were caught off guard by the departure and wonder what it will mean for the agency’s efforts to address a glut of delayed payments that have already forced some providers to close their doors for good.

“Her people were shocked, nobody had any idea,” the former staffer said. “We haven’t gotten a sense of whether she was a sacrificial lamb or if she legitimately did leave because she thinks it’s all gonna come crashing down.”

Officials in the education department said Hawkins’ departure was for “personal reasons.”

Hawkins’ exit comes at a point of financial crisis for many preschool operators in the city’s prekindergarten and 3-K programs, who say they’ve been waiting months for payments and are on the brink of insolvency.

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