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.