Menlo Park's Future

 

Why we should NOT be subsidizing pre-school programs in West Menlo Park.

Fellow Residents:

In my last email, I wrote that Menlo Park taxpayers are subsidizing each of the 54 slots in our WestMenloPre-school child care program (MCC) by $6,644 a year. On November 25 the City Council decided to raise the tuition rate by 5%, which will only cover the recent increase in program costs, so you and I are still subsidizing child care by the same amount—and the parents are needlessly paying more.

If I were a parent who had a child or children in the MCC, I would demand that the City Council invite private child care providers to take over the operation on the condition that they don't raise tuition at all.

The problem as to why the City should NOT be in the childcare business is eloquently presented in the email below by a gentleman who founded and runs the Heads Up Child Development Centers in Palo Alto and the EastBay.

November 25, 2008

Re: Childcare Fees

Dear Council Members:

Your discussion of the fee structure for the Menlo Park Children’s Center involves two basic questions:

1.       Should the City of Menlo Park operate a childcare center? And

2.      If yes to #1, how much should it subsidize childcare for residents and non-residents.

With respect to the first question, I believe that I can speak with expertise: I am a childcare administrator and a former member of the City’s Childcare Task Force from several years ago.  The obvious answer is: no, the city should not be operating a childcare center for the following reasons:

1.       Lack of expertise.  The city does not possess the knowledge or infrastructure to manage a childcare operation.

2.      Lack of scale.  The center is not of sufficient size to afford professional management.  It would need to serve at least 100 full-time children to be economically viable.

3.      Overpriced staffing resources.  Union-scale wages and benefits are not appropriate for part-time workers.  As a percentage of part-time wages, the fixed cost of health care itself is prohibitive.

4.      Inefficient product.  It is not economic to offer part-time services, even at the higher fees proposed.  It is almost impossible to make full use of very expensive staff resources because, for example, part-time parents do not want Mondays and Fridays and it is not possible to schedule efficiently to use the “holes”.  The per-day premiums for part-time schedules do not offset the cost of the holes.

5.      Inefficient hours.  It is inefficient to require two facilities to serve the same child on the same day.  After-school care should be on school premises.

6.      High cost of transportation.  It is inefficient (and dangerous!) to transport children from one site to another.  In the past, these costs were attributed to the city’s general transportation costs and not childcare, so it is not clear how they are being treated by the city’s cost study.  The vans and drivers are, nevertheless, a major cost item.  This again reinforces the conclusion that after-school care should be on school premises.

With respect to the second question, the answer is political and not technical.  I can speak only for myself as a resident: I do not want to subsidize the tuition for other middle-class people’s children (especially non-residents) and I do not want to subsidize the higher costs resulting from union membership.

I recommend that the fee structure cover the full cost (100%) of childcare services.  Let’s let users decide if it is worthwhile.  If not, lease the building to a private operator, eliminate the subsidy, and generate rent.

Yours truly,

Charles D. Bernstein
cbernstein@HeadsUp.org


Let me know what you think at menlofuture@gmail.com

Thanks,
Lee Duboc

To see past emails go to: http://menlofuture.weebly.com/index.html