Campus administration decides not to transfer child care management

Michael Ball/Staff
Administrators announced plans last month that Bright Horizons Family Solutions will take over policy oversight, staff training and administrative process support at the campus Early Child Education Program.

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After parents raised concerns with UC Berkeley’s intention to transfer the management of its child care program to a private provider, campus administration announced Monday it will not use the private management services.

The decision came after administrators announced plans last month for Bright Horizons Family Solutions to take over policy oversight, staff training and administrative process support at the campus Early Child Education Program. The program has provided child care for faculty, staff and students at UC Berkeley since the early 1970s.

Critics said the company had a less than stellar history at Cornell University, and parents feared that the new management would change ECEP’s current pedagogy and educational culture.

Additionally, parents characterized the management transfer as a form of outsourcing and privatization at a meeting last week between parents and LeNorman Strong, associate vice chancellor of Residential and Student Services Program, under which ECEP is housed.

“This is an essential part of Berkeley, not something that is minor,” said integrative biology professor Tim White at the meeting. “We are not interested in losing what has been built here.”

In a letter to ECEP parents announcing the campus’s decision Monday, Strong said that entering into a short-term contract with Bright Horizons could further destabilize ECEP, given the concerns parents had raised. However, he said in the letter that the “status quo is not acceptable” and that the campus will be hiring staff from UC Berkeley to stabilize the management of the program.

Additionally, the campus will begin a search for a permanent ECEP executive director and will create at least two steering committees — one to provide input for the short-term organizational transition of ECEP and another to develop strategies for the long-term sustainability of the program, according to the letter.

Janelle Scott, an associate professor in the graduate school of education in the African American studies department, said many parents are pleased that their concerns were heard by RSSP.

“There’s hard work ahead,” Scott said. “People are really ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Prior to the campus’s decision, more than 180 people had signed a letter addressed to UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau opposing the management transfer and requesting the removal of ECEP from RSSP’s administration.

While acknowledging that in 2011-12 ECEP was cited for 15 violations — which can range from a child breaking a leg to parents inaccurately signing in — by state auditors, the letter condemned the campus’s choice of Bright Horizons, citing violations the program had received at its center at Cornell.

“Simply removing the program managers at the centers without changing the leadership oversight of ECEP is unlikely to improve the centers, and the introduction of Bright Horizons could very well exacerbate existing issues,” the letter reads.

In August 2010, Cornell University’s faculty senate sent a 25-page report to the dean of the faculty recommending he terminate the university’s contract with Bright Horizons because of high annual turnover in teaching staff and  47 violations it racked up in about a year and a half, among other reasons, according to The Cornell Daily Sun.

“It’s a problem because when you introduce a profit-motive to a service like child care, you create negative incentives, which have the potential to decrease quality care,” said Sydney Morgan, a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Cornell.

Despite the faculty senate report, Cornell continued its contract with Bright Horizons, and, according to Cornell spokesperson Claudia Wheatley, the center has turned itself around in the last two years and receives strong parent satisfaction ratings, becoming one of the best child care centers in upstate New York.

Since spring of 2010,  the center has reduced its number of violations to seven, four of which were minor.

“The early days of the Cornell Child Care Center were challenging,” Wheatley said in an email. “With the help and encouragement of the parents, (the) Division of Human Resources and Bright Horizons created an outstanding child care center that serves more than 150 families each year.”

Contact Gladys Rosario at [email protected].