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Menlo Park Child Care Woes

Original post made by Menlo Park Child Care Woes on Feb 28, 2007

The City of Menlo Park is described as a calm, yet vibrant city, of beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods and friendly people, overflowing with resources and brilliance. Made up of several tight knit communities who share smiles, carpools and play dates, Menlo Park would seem like the ideal place to raise a family. The Menlo Park Elementary School District is home to some of the best schools in the area. The District is praised for it's high test scores and consistently ranks among the top 5% of schools statewide.
So, why are the parents of this lovely city so upset? It seems as though the one thing that this city is missing is sufficient, quality after school child care. Parents west of 101 are concerned about the lack of child care options for their elementary school-aged children, while parents in the Belle Haven neighborhood are concerned about the lack of quality child care available in their community.
The West Menlo parents have grown extremely frustrated with perpetual waiting lists and archaic selection processes. Both public and private facilities are at their maximum capacities and constantly turning away new parents who are quickly running out of options for after school care. Other facilities that do have space usually select from a random draw process that gives each parent a 50% chance at admission for their child, leaving many parents discouraged knowing that there is no guarantee their child will be chosen.
The Belle Haven neighborhood on the other hand has a slightly different problem. After fighting an uphill battle to keep their most qualified, dedicated and cherished teacher, the City of Menlo Park ignored the cries of the community and transferred her to the Menlo Children's Center. With the move of the Belle Haven Program Assistant, Vanessa Carlisle, parents are concerned about the demise of the Belle Haven School-Age Child Care Program: the lack of responsible adults caring for the children and the unstructured curriculum has resulted in a chaotic scene of neglected children running around with little supervision.
When examining the issues of both sides, it's quite ironic that one area is full to capacity while the other is struggling to keep families enrolled. The Menlo Child Care Center is at capacity with 102 children currently enrolled. The City's other public program, the Belle Haven School-Age Child Care Program has a mere 51 children enrolled with room for at least 20 students, and plenty of empty classrooms for expansion. So why aren't parents sending their children to the Belle Haven facility? During a parents meeting earlier this week, several West Menlo Park parents they made it quite clear that they would bus their children anywhere west of 101, but felt that bussing their children to Belle Haven was a "danger to the children's lives".
At a recent meeting between the Mayor Kelly Ferguson, Council Member John Boyle, Community Services Director Barbara George, Senior Recreation Supervisor Michael Taylor, Menlo Park School District Superintendent Ken Ranella and parents from all areas of Menlo Park, these concerns were expressed with calls for immediate resolve. The end result was the election of a task force committee, made up of concerned parents, local business owners, child care representatives, school board members and city officials, who have agreed to meet, brainstorm ideas and regroup with plausible solutions for these pressing child care issues. As members of the entire Menlo Park community continue to come together and demand changes, I am hopeful that all will be restored in this city very soon and each child will have access to quality after school care.

Comments (14)

Posted by Working Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 28, 2007 at 9:48 pm

If I had a choice I would not want my child to be bused anywhere for after school care. I would want to pick up my child at the same location where I dropped off. I would not want to worry whether my child safely arrived at where the care is provided, or if there was any unexpected traffic issues in transition. I would also not want to spend lot of time commuting to the after school childcare facility, adding to already congested traffic problems in the evening commuting hours.

If after school care is provided at the school campus, I would not have to worry about any of this. I would not have to leave work extra 30 minutes early to make sure I would be able to pick up on time. For a lot of working parents, time is already precious and we would not need additional stress of driving to the other side of town to pick up our children. This issue, and the stress of trying to find a quality care that works with our schedule (in vain, I might add), is enough to make me feel like I want to move to a neighboring city. If the school board already knows that they need to expand the capacity of our schools to accommodate the growth in the student body, why don't they think about growing the capacity of afterschool program? It seems obvious that a certain number of that growth come from families in which both parents work outside of home. And, as we all found out on Monday, this is a problem that has existed for a long time now, according to some of the parents who currently have children enrolled in the elementary schools.

This problem will not go away and will only get worse. It is time to seriously consider viable options if we care about the lives of our children.


Posted by Pseudonyms Are Fun, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 1, 2007 at 7:55 am

Who voted for this task force? Who runs it? Who selects the members?

Hmmm.


Posted by Kindergarten first!, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 1, 2007 at 2:27 pm

The Menlo Park school district really needs to step up. The schools are a tax-payer funded resource that are going to waste during afterschool hours when they could be put to good use for afterschool care.


Posted by Thinking outside the box, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2007 at 1:40 am

Be careful about suggesting that the existing school facilities are going to waste during after-school hours because this pits after-school childcare against the numerous and heavily subscribed to existing after-school programs that use the school facilities (sports, spanish, science adventures, chess, etc.).

Oak Knoll, Laurel and Encinal don't have enough nearly enough playground space as it is. Adding buildings for childcare will mean eating up even more of the playground space and will never fly with the parents of this community. But what about asking our community to pass another bond to get enough money to buy land that is contiguous to the school properties to expand the campuses for childcare? Our community has not had a failed school bond measure that I can recall, so it seems that our voters are amenable to being persuaded to support worthy causes if the bond campaign is well-executed.


Posted by Thinking outside the box, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2007 at 9:09 am

Here's another idea that is even more out of the box: would it be possible to add after-school childcare programs to the Rosener house facility that is on city owned property? Since that property used to be a public school, it has playground equipment, basketball court as well as Lyle field.


Posted by Rory Brown, Almanac staff writer
on Mar 2, 2007 at 10:57 am

Rory Brown is a registered user.

Pseudonyms Are Fun:
The child care task force, as of right now, is not an official city committee. It's a parent-led group, and parents expressed interest in getting local superintendents, school board members, council members and other city officials on the task force.

Council members Boyle and Fergusson are going to update the rest of the council about the task force at an upcoming meeting, and may float the idea of council members joining the group.


Posted by Seen it Done, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 15, 2007 at 12:39 am

Many other cities run after school programs on school sites. All they need is an MP room and maybe one additional classroom (but not necessary. My guess is the district is not willing to relinquish the space to the city to run such a program. It's a nice partnership- when it works :-). The city can share in custodial fees, maintaining sports fields, etc. There are many ways to collaborate.


Posted by Mean Momma, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2007 at 10:08 am

Has everyone forgotten that the city ran a Child Care Task Force just a few years ago? The members were chosen to represent all constituencies, including parents, educators, and other child care professionals. This was not an "in group" -- there were people on that task force who were clearly in opposite camps from other members of the task force--but they managed to put aside their differences and work toward a common goal. As part of their efforts, the task force surveyed every parent in the Menlo Park City School District about child care needs and preferences. The responses from those parents were carefully considered and used as the foundation for the final recommendations.

That task force did an excellent job, but its recommendations were ignored. The sole impact of the task force was to later serve as a point of contention for a silly quibble about the Brown Act.

Why is anyone surprised that the child care issue hasn't gone away? Given the fact that we had a task force so recently, why not just skip that step and try to implement the recommendations of the previous task force: add onsite child care to the schools.


Posted by KinderMom, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 16, 2007 at 11:14 am

Mean Momma: Where can I find the recommendations of the city's childcare taskforce? Is it online somewhere?


Posted by MM, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2007 at 12:08 pm

The only document I could find online is the staff report presented 3.5 years ago: Web Link

One bit of background information you need to keep in mind is that the council's purpose for commissioning this task force was to justify not building a brand new child care center. So the staff report, written by Audrey Seymour, presents the material with that bias. (I had forgotten about that key point when I wrote my earlier post!)

However, if you read the first section of the report, you can see that the task force determined that onsite care was preferred by most parents, and advocated for moving toward that (overcoming district objections) as a goal. At the time, the district paid lip service to the idea, but in the subsequent 3+ years has chosen to forget about it, and of course the task force was dismantled when the study ended.

My point remains: the list of alternatives is already out there, and the consensus clearly points in one direction. No need for further studies; let's figure out how to implement these programs on campus.


Posted by Observer, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 16, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Mean Momma, you need to get your facts straight: The two past childcare task forces focused on:
1) Building a "new" childcare facility (that was the one from several years ago)
2) Privitizing the Burgess programs (that was the one from last year)

Neither focused on the issue of providing after-school care at school campuses (they may have touched on it, but it certainly wasn't a focus). So to say we should just go ahead with some kind of phantom recommendations supposedly out there seems like an old "council majority" ploy.


Posted by observer, a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Mar 17, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Sure doesn't sound like the city has ever had the sort of discussion that should proceed all these task forces -- what are the community's needs (including forecasts of pre-school and school-age care needs) and what role (if any) should the city play?
If these had been answered before (and it's not too late), then a lot of extremely expensive efforts might never have occurred. There was a design of a beautiful new child care center created BEFORE the city discussed whether the city should even be in the business of managing child care. After that, millions were spent retrofitting the police station into a smaller facility that now has long waiting lists. Oddly, it was only then that the city had a discussion about who should run it when it would have made a lot more sense to have an operator design a center the way they would think best. That is, if the city's role was to provide help with the facility or site at all.
That's all behind us, but it's important to keep in mind that the city hasn't done a very good job approaching this in a practical and methodical way.
Child care on school premises requires the school district to champion it. The city then could be asked to help, along with other feeder cities. With the commotion about the UUT are you sure Menlo Park residents will accept being taxed?


Posted by More Observant, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Mar 17, 2007 at 7:41 pm

Observer, I was on that task force in 2003. Were you? The focus of the task force's efforts and the results reported to the council were not congruent. Staff slanted the recommendations to serve the needs of certain council members. Is that so hard to accept?

Most other communities provide onsite afterschool (and some provide before school) child care. The recommendation to implement similar programs in Menlo Park isn't phantom--it's in the staff report, albeit buried. Try reading a few pages.


Posted by laurel mother, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 18, 2007 at 8:00 pm

More observant is right on and the facts are in black and white. Page 3 of the report that is publically available. It is important that our views be shared - yet again - with the MP School Board. We need to have onsite after school care as do ALL OF THE DISTRICTS SURROUNDING MENLO PARK!!!! I have already forwarded the report (referenced above) that was published 3 years ago to the new Board for their review. It states clearly on page 3 that there is a huge demand for onsite afterschool care. 43% of those who submitted surveys or 196 families said they would use onsite after school care. This survey did not even take into account - to the best of my knowledge - incoming kindergarten families who arguably would have the most need. This was three years ago and since then the need has only grown and will only continue to grow. The question is not if but when. To save us all the heartache of wasted time AND money please help encourage the Board to act NOW while they are planning for all elementary school updates. Monday March 19 night at 7pm - Oak Knoll library, there will be a special Board meeting to discuss improvements at Oak Knoll school. April 4th there will be another School Board meeting to discuss all campus improvements. Mark your calanders Please please please - post your comments to the board: board@mpcsd.org AND attend an upcoming meeting. Hopefully this issue will -- finally -- receive the attention it deserves.


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