Mountain View Voice

News - November 1, 2013

Child care center switch upsets parents

Council drops old operator; hires new group at Rengstorff facility

by Daniel DeBolt

Amid outcry from concerned parents, City Council members were compelled to reiterate the reasons why they got the city into the preschool business.

Saying that a change in staff would be hard on their kids, parents were not happy about the switch in operators of the city's child care center at Rengstorff Park, which was approved by the City Council Oct. 22. Over a dozen parents pleaded for the emotional well-being of their children, begging council members to allow "continuity" in care for their children, which parents said was "exemplary."

Council members said the city had a compelling reason to make the switch to the new operator, Community Gatepath. Over the last four years, Children's Creative Learning Center fell significantly short of the city's goal for serving low-income families. Mounting financial difficulties forced CCLC to ask the city to reduce its annual rent of $200,000 a year to only $100,000.

"Please sit down and mediate" with CCLC, said parent Sasha Hart. "Money can be easily negotiated. A high-quality, superb education, once it's gone, it's gone."

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga recalled the reason why council members pushed to build the child care center, which opened in Rengstorff Park in 2008. The Packard Foundation had done a study identifying the Rengstorff Park area as "a place of need" for affordable child care, she said. "The whole purpose was to build a child care center to serve that location."

The city had a goal of having 30 percent of the center's 100 or so children come from low-income families. The CCLC was able to bring in only 7 percent, on average, since 2008.

Community Gatepath won the five-year contract to run the center over five other applicants who responded to a notice sent to 100 possible new operators. City staff said the new operator had "provided a detailed plan and identified funding resources to meet the 30 percent low-income enrollment goal within 18 months of commencement of operation" and had agreed to be responsible for the full annual lease payment of $201,084.

Council members approved the Community Gatepath contract in a 5-1 vote with John McAlister absent and Mayor John Inks opposed.

"The bottom line for me is that the 30 percent low-income is really critical," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Otherwise I would invite CCLC to find another location in Mountain View and continue with the program because it sounds like a program people really love.

Serving the low-income families was the reason for the creation of the child care center, Bryant said.

Community Gatepath said that 75 to 95 percent of teachers are usually retained when they take over an existing center, which seemed to alleviate some concern. But parent Ania Mitros wasn't convinced CCLC would allow its teachers to stay.

"I think CCLC is going to put business before children and do their darnedest to draw children and teachers from the Mountain View center to other CCLC centers," Mitros said in an email, adding that CCLC has promised to inform parents of other CCLC centers in the area where parents could find the "top talent we retain."

CCLC had budget shortfalls every year except 2010-11 when it had a surplus of $9,063. In 2011-12, the operation had its biggest shortfall ever: $136,982.

In their opposition to the switch, parents noted that Community Gatepath had two licensing violations at its other "Learning Links" locations and that its centers lacked accreditation.

"Many centers in the state have violations, these things happen," explained Community Gatepath's Tracey Fecher. "We had an aide with less units (in early childcare education than required) in the nap room." Now the nap room always has someone with the appropriate units, she said.

In response to requests from parents that the city renegotiate with CCLC, City Manager Dan Rich said that the city issued a request for proposals. "That process is an open, competitive process. At this point it would be highly unusual to discontinue this process," he said.

City officials said they were surprised to hear complaints from CCLC at the meeting about the city not doing enough to help market the program.

"It's been a challenge on our end" in working with the city," said CCLC's business development director Kevin McAdams, saying that the cities of Palo Alto and Redwood City are "much better champions" of similar child care centers.

City Manager Rich said it was the first he had heard of such complaints.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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