Private provider to manage university child care program

Kevin Foote/File
UC Berkeley will employ management services from for-profit child care provider Bright Horizons.

UC Berkeley will bring in management services from a for-profit child care provider to its Early Childhood Education Program at the start of the new year, officials announced Tuesday — a move that has come under fire from parents who use the service.

In a statement released Tuesday, the campus announced that child care provider Bright Horizons Family Solutions will manage policy oversight, staff training and administrative process support for three years beginning in January. The ECEP provides child care services for UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty.

More than 80 parents have signed a letter condemning the decision to bring in a third-party provider, which they characterize as a step toward privatizing the university. The letter also raises concern about a lack of parent involvement in the process and skepticism about the neutrality of choosing Bright Horizons, which was acquired by Bain Capital in 2008.

Bain Capital is a private asset management firm founded in 1984 by partners of the consulting firm Bain & Company. The campus originally hired Bain & Company at the cost of $7.5 million between October 2009 and December 2010 and charged it with finding savings for the campus through Operational Excellence — a controversial campus program that aims to improve administrative efficiency. Hiring Bain & Company sparked a campuswide debate about the role of outside consulting agencies in internal operations.

While the two have the same roots, Bain Capital and Bain & Company are distinct companies and do not share ownership, governance or employees.

Introducing the private child care provider is a temporary solution to aid the ECEP’s current management structure until a long-term strategy can be devised, according to the Tuesday statement. Teachers and student assistants involved with the program will retain their jobs and remain employed by the campus, though Bright Horizons will bring in its own management team to replace the current ECEP director, three program managers and one administrative supervisor.

In the letter, which was sent Monday to Associate Vice Provost for the Faculty Angelica Stacy and Associate Vice Chancellor of Residential and Student Services LeNorman Strong, parents expressed concern that the campus did not consult them or teachers in its decision and said the issue had not been brought up at recent meetings of the parent advisory board, a group of volunteer parent representatives from each ECEP center that makes recommendations to the ECEP Director.

“(The administration) should have ensured that there was enough transparency,” said Lisa Garcia Bedolla, an associate professor in the campus Graduate School of Education, who has a child enrolled in ECEP. “We don’t have an official say, but (the PAC) is supposed to be the place where they tell us what they are concerned about. And that structure was not used at all.”

The letter also points out that in its consulting report on Operational Excellence, Bain & Company suggested that the campus use an outside service provider for child care.

While Bain’s April 2010 report did suggest that the campus could use an outside provider to cut costs, the campus did not implement the suggestion at the time. Cornell University and North Carolina State, two of the three universities cited by Bain in its report as examples of institutions with outside child care services, use Bright Horizons as their service provider.

“It makes us feel worse,” Bedolla said. “It feels like a conflict of interest … and this makes it more suspicious and more in need of examination.”

However, according to Marty Takimoto, director of communications and marketing for Residential and Student Service Programs, many child care providers were considered, and the choice to go with Bright Horizons had nothing to do with Bain & Company’s previous consulting relationship with the campus.

“Some of the people were saying that child care was being outsourced, but we are only contracting with Bright Horizons to get through this short-term assessment and oversight of this system,” Takimoto said. “We went through a six- to nine-month process of looking at what options were available for getting accomplished what we needed to get accomplished.”

During the summer of 2011, the campus partnered with Bright Horizons Family Solutions to offer backup care — temporary in-home or in-center care for children and adults when primary caregivers cannot offer care — to its faculty members under the Back-Up Care Advantage Program.

Still, Bedolla said she remains wary of the way the new management has the potential to change the child care program.

“If we wanted that type of teaching philosophy, we would use their centers,” Bedolla said. “We would lose this great approach to teaching that Berkeley created.”

Contact Megan Messerly at [email protected].