Editorial: Parents get reprieve on after-school programBelle Haven parents showed their mettle last week when they convinced the Menlo Park City Council to put off a decision to shut down the after-school daycare program that currently serves 41 students.
It was the right move for the council members, who agreed to delay their effort to save nearly $200,000 to pay for additional police officers lost when Gov. Jerry Brown took away redevelopment districts all over the state, including the one in eastern Menlo Park.
But although they will receive another year of partially subsidized child care, most parents of young children in the program will have to decide what to do next year if the City Council sticks to its word and transfers the program to the nonprofit Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula. Some told the council that they would try to raise some of the funds to cover the subsidy, but realistically there is no way for the parents to make up such a large difference.
It is unfortunate, but in a state that is constantly battling insolvency, budget cuts can greatly impact small cities like Menlo Park, which is juggling programs whose funding was lost when the redevelopment agency was shut down. Subsidizing after-school child care for 41 Belle Haven students of mostly low-income parents is just one of the difficult choices the city faces. (The city charges $60 to $450 a week, based on income.)
If the program is shut down and the Boys and Girls Club is the only alternative, parents say their children would lose many amenities, including transportation from the bus stop to the Onetta Harris Community Center; hot snacks; children separated by age; a low adult-to-student ratio; and a family atmosphere appropriate for younger children.
The after-school programs at the Boys and Girls Club serve many more students, 265 in grades 1 to 8, which parents say would be a major transition for students who are accustomed to the more individualized attention at Onetta Harris. But the price appeals to city officials who say the Club, which gets high marks from parents, would charge only $60,000 a year to take in all of the children in Belle Haven's after-school program.
It has been a difficult choice for the council, since the city operates a similar program in a child-care center next to City Hall. There, well-to-do parents pay for nearly all the costs of keeping the program afloat. The difference is not lost on Belle Haven parents, who have been critical of the city for not reaching out more to them to explain the options. One parent said she feels "...bombarded due to the side of the tracks we are on, also known as the side of color, also known as the east side."
Such criticisms are a concern, but it is also true that the city has lost its redevelopment agency that for years has poured millions of dollars for numerous projects into Belle Haven. Ending after-school day care is just one of the hard choices the city is making now and must make in the years ahead.