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Sunday, February 28, 2010

City to Toddlers: Go To Hell

Hidden Agenda Revealed

By Brian Donahue

City officials plan on privatizing the city's public preschool---regardless of what parents say or do.

Top city officials outlined why the school must be turned over to private operators in a memo sent out hours before the same officials met with parents at a workshop billed as a venue for parents to "provide input."

The meeting was held last week at the Child Development Center.

An excerpt from the memo, between city finance chief Edmond Suen and City Manager Patrick O'Keeffe, leaps from an otherwise banal list of fiduciary proposals.

"At the December 15 meeting, the City Council authorized staff to issue Request for Qualifications to Providers of Infant and Preschool Child Care Services for the Emeryville Child Development Center (ECDC). This RFQ is an example of staff’s quest to identify alternative delivery mechanisms to provide equal or better services in the most cost effective manner. Obviously, there may be other considerations in pursuing the outsourcing option, but outsourcing and resource sharing is gaining traction in the face of unsustainable Agency cost structures."

The Tattler obtained this memo Friday.

A translation of the legalese reveals that behind closed doors, officials are hurrying to privatize the center along with other government functions.

Pressed for an explanation Monday, Suen sought to qualify the memo's wording, saying the idea for privatization didn't start with him, and isn't his decision. "Many agencies in these challenging economic conditions are looking at outsourcing as an option," Suen said. "We take our direction from the city council, and they have authorized an RFQ at ECDC but the decision has not been made to move forward necessarily with outsourcing at this time." An RFQ, or Request for Qualifications, is an initial step in identifying private companies to bid on a project.

Parents are nevertheless crying foul. Last week city officials were busy assuring parents that two avenues for keeping the center public were being pursued. Many parents argued that a third 'fund raising option' be considered, a concept Mr. O'Keeffe embraced at Tuesday's forum. Yet, the memo had already been written.

Emeryville resident Jaquiline Asher, activist and mother of two students at ECDC was chagrined at the revelation that the meeting was nothing more than a dog-and-pony show. "In the wake of hearing uniformly from over 60 parents that they wanted options outside the Request For Qualification options, this memo indicates they are not listening to the parents," she said. She pointed to a damning sentence that states that privatizing is "gaining traction" and this sentiment relayed by the staff shows the true agenda regardless of any public statements made by the politicians or other government officials.

Mr. Suen disputed Ms. Asher's interpretation of the memo. A "different interpretation of the staff report and specifically a different interpretation of the ECDC statement within. The outsourcing reference in the report was meant in a general way".

The Emeryville City Council is scheduled to address the issue of the Child Development Center at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday March 2nd at Emeryville City Hall.


  1. Brian, you have yet to discuss how a private company running the Center would be at all detrimental. For all we know, this could be either better or worse or the same. What reason do we have to assume private operation would be worse than the existing condition?

  2. The rush to privatize government function began in earnest with the Bush Administration's ideas about the 'ineffectiveness of government' and the sacrosanct nature of private sector touted efficiency. It's been well documented in the intervening years that this can lead to disastrous outcomes in public policy. The idea that a private company needs to extract profit from a job that previously could be done without the added fiscal burden, adds to the pressure to cheapen the quality. This 'government is bad' mantra from corporatists has been discredited. Government has a vital role to play, especially in educating our children.

  3. If it's well documented then document it. You still provide no evidence. How do you account for the thousands of excellent private pre-schools and daycare facilities across the county? The vast majority of our nation's children are serviced by these facilities and not public facilities.

  4. It's not my intention to enter a back and forth dialog with readers in the comments section. However, I'll say that the Bush administration's policy speaks for itself. I'm not interested in giving readers a list of books to read. If for no other reason, the list would be too large in this case. I have shown how the necessity for profits added to the money spent is a cost not incurred by the government...those costs have to be made up somewhere. So the educational experience becomes cheapened, at least by degree. Then of course is the notion of accountability. Government officials are directly accountable to the citizens, corporate regimes are accountable to investors or shareholders, those who are ever interested in maximizing the profits; not a good use of taxpayer funds. Unless there exists a culture of corruption in a government, it's more efficient to have government provide for education.

    Just so you know, after Mr Suen revealed in his interview for this story that the city is preparing a wholesale privatization of services City Hall has historically provided, I intend to investigate with an in-depth story to be released at a later date.

    There are plenty of people who believe that government should be stripped of its charge and install a regime of taxpayer funded private corporate services...indeed this thinking brought us George Bush and other Republicans. I'm not one of these people.

  5. The Anonymous poster brings up a good point. Private industry generally provides services more efficiently. For example: airlines, health insurers, oil companies and cell phone providers all set a standard for transparency, low cost and customer satisfaction that cannot be denied.

  6. I can't tell if the 2:51 guy is serious or not. I like to think its meant as sarcasm, otherwise, we've got some real kooks livin' in this town.

  7. It's both sarcasm and we have some real kooks living in this town...

  8. Brian, I generally agree with you on this topic, but your lack of a compelling argument regarding how the quality of service at the center would be negatively affected by a private operator leads me to reconsider my position.

  9. Good grief. It's a city with a cash crunch - can we for once leave discussion of the 'Bush Doctrine', whatever that means, out of it? It cheapens the argument.

    There is much to be gained if you stay on point - the city needs to be confronted with a lack of creative ways to pay for a valuable city service.