Menlo Park seeking bids to run its child care centers 

After public outcry over a proposal to privatize city-run child care centers, the City Council is looking for ways to at least stop subsidizing those centers.

In budget talks Wednesday, the council agreed to court bidders who would take over the city’s child care services. In the meantime, the city plans to raise fees at city-run centers by 22.5 percent by winter, according to City Councilmember Lee Duboc.

Currently, the city charges $748 to $1,682 per month for enrollment in its centers, which cater to toddlers, preschoolers and school-age kids. The city’s contribution is estimated at $444,000. Even with the increases, user fees won’t fully cover operating costs, according to Assistant City Manager Audrey Seymour.

"People want to look at stopping the subsidization," Duboc said, adding that some parents who pay for private child care are unhappy that their tax money funds city-run centers.

However, many fear that outsourcing operations of those centers won’t benefit the kids. City-run centers currently provide 93 percent of Menlo Park’s spaces for school-age children, according to Sarah Johnson, resource and referral manager for the Child Care Coordinating Council of San Mateo County.

"Private companies tend to convert those spaces to preschool spaces because they’re more profitable," Johnson said.

Menlo Park has 1,175 slots in 23 child care centers, 14 of which are private.

Private companies have a higher employee turnover rate because they offer lesser salaries and lesser benefits, according to Albert Carlson, field researcher with Service Employees International Union Local 715, which represents the centers’ 16 full- and part-time employees.

For that reason, "we feel privatizing it would hurt children," Carlson said.

While many parents and officials oppose outsourcing, others who submitted letters to the City Council or attended the meeting said they favor any option that provides quality care at the lowest possible cost.

When the bidding process kicks off, the city will be able to compete.

Currently, the program is seeking full accreditation to give ita better shot at the contract, according to Community Services Director Michael Taylor.

One company that won’t be competing is Children’s Creative Learning Center, whose initial interest in taking over Menlo Park’s city-run child care sparked the privatization debate.

"We realized the consensus was to keep things as is," CCLC co-founder Ty Durekas said.

Menlo Park, facing a $2.9 million deficit, will adopt its budget in June.

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