Where Menlo Park staff saw a win-win, parents saw a lose-lose. The Menlo Park City Council decided on May 22 to give parents a year to make their case as to why the city shouldn't let a nonprofit take over its Belle Haven after-school program.
The merger would save the city about $192,000 next year, making it an enticing proposition in tough budgetary times. Although the subsidized Belle Haven program wasn't funded by the city's dissolved redevelopment agency, it does tie up general funds that Menlo Park now needs to pay four police officers, according to staff.
Parents relying on the Belle Haven program outlined what the merger would cost them: transportation of children from bus stops to the program's home at the Onetta Harris Community Center; hot snacks; children separated by age; a low adult to student ratio; and a family atmosphere appropriate to younger children instead of one skewed toward the older teens who go to the nonprofit, the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula.
One speaker listed three reasons for the council to keep the Belle Haven program. Beechwood principal Dave Laurence praised the program's "safe and productive environment" and the number of students who return after graduation to help give back to the program that helped them. "Lastly, any time you take the ratio of adults to students and increase that to the point where there's just supervision, you lose the relationship," he said. "Forming a bond equals a positive thing."
Parents also criticized the city's lack of outreach. Staff sent out one survey about the closure, they said, but that was it.
Mayor Kirsten Keith said she thought the city could do better by sitting down to talk with the parents.
After discussing the finer points of the proposed budget, council members asked staff to give the Belle Haven program another year time enough for the parents to either figure out how to lower costs or make other arrangements for their children.
"I want to extend a challenge to the parents of the after-school program and teachers -- you've got to help us with that solution," Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said, and noted that the program is in direct competition with public safety for funding. "We've got to keep those police services up!"