Officials at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District are revisiting a proposed change in child care service providers at four elementary schools following concerns raised by a number of parents left reeling as well as a letter from the company they had been set to replace.
SRVUSD staff asked that the Board of Education pull an item that had been on the consent agenda for their June 13 meeting -- a contract for a new child care provider at Tassajara Hills, Live Oak, Neil Armstrong and Hidden Hills elementary schools that would replace the longstanding current provider at those schools, The Growing Room.
"This is because of issues related to the district's procedures and process for selecting child care providers were raised," said Stella Kemp, assistant superintendent of business operations at the June 13 meeting. "We're requesting that this item be pulled from tonight's agenda, and I just want to let the board and the public know that I apologize for that ... Our work is unsettling to the community and it creates so much consideration and ruckus, so our apologies for that."
If approved, the consent agenda item would have seen The Growing Room replaced with Champions, which was the company recommended by staff in the report prepared for that night's meeting.
The proposed change in providers resulted in a number of written correspondences to the district, raising concerns with the sudden change in the middle of summer as well as alleging that the proposed contract with Champions was inconsistent with the district's internal policies for selecting child care providers.
Kemp also requested that the board pull another consent agenda item that had been on the table that night -- a contract with a transportation provider for special education students -- in order to reopen the request for proposals process. The RFP for the proposed shift in child care providers was also a matter of concern for a number of commenters on The Growing Room debate.
The Growing Room's current contract with the district is set to end on Friday (June 30), with the RFP process being opened for a contract for the next five-year cycle in May, according to a staff report prepared for June 13. The Growing Room was among the companies who bid for the upcoming year, along with AlphaBest, Kid's Country, YMCA and Champions.
Staff interviewed all five companies on June 8, before recommending Champions as the provider for all four elementary schools for the next five years, for a contract starting on July 1.
Following the June 13 meeting, district officials sent a message to parents and caregivers at the four schools notifying them that the proposed change in providers had been pulled from the agenda, with The Growing Room continuing to provide services in the meantime.
"In light of the concerns that have been raised and due to our desire to engage our partners in the process, we have decided to revisit the process of identifying a childcare provider at your elementary schools," district officials wrote on June 13. "We are pulling the agenda item from this evening's Board of Education meeting. In the meantime, The Growing Room will continue to provide services to your students."
Officials received more than 20 written comments by June 13 from parents at all four elementary schools currently serviced by The Growing Room, with reactions that ranged from bewilderment to frustration over what was called a rushed RFP process that lacked transparency and parental involvement and would have replaced a well-respected provider with experience at the schools it operated at in the midst of critical summer programming.
"Familiarity breeds comfort and stability," wrote Debbie Butler, a parent and employee with the district. "The Growing Room has been serving our community for many years, building strong relationships with our students, parents, and staff especially during the tumultuous years of the pandemic."
Katrina Napacena, another parent with a child at Live Oak Elementary, also emphasized the importance of having a longstanding provider with experience in the district, while pointing to the upheaval that a change in providers would cause busy parents.
"Preliminarily, I am alarmed by the District's timing and lack of communication with potentially impacted families at the outset of this entire process," Napacena wrote. "By the time families learned about the RFP process (through The Growing Room, not the district) we had already submitted enrollment forms, paid deposits, and proceeded with our decisions for upcoming care to be provided by The Growing Room months ago for the upcoming summer and fall."
"All of this with the district seemed to start a time when students and their parents/families were busy and overwhelmed with end-of-year plans and festivities, and completed during a time when parents/families are less engaged in District news/events during summer break," she continued.
Napacena pointed to the district's internal guidelines for selecting child care providers, which include having several parents on the selection team as well as a parent survey that would be shared with the team before a contract was awarded.
For their part, The Growing Room representatives submitted a letter from their legal counsel for review as public comment, which had also been submitted to the school board on June 12, alleging deficiencies in the RFP process and alleging that The Growing Room had understood their contract would be extended with the district for an additional two years after it was set to expire at the end of this month.
Ilana Israel Samuels, director of communications and community relations at the district, said that officials would be communicating with parents when or if another RFP process is initiated for a replacement for The Growing Room, which would continue operating at all four schools in the meantime.
Samuels also sought to address parents' concerns about the prospect of changing providers in the middle of summer, and after many had already solidified plans to start or keep using services from The Growing Room.
"Parents who opted in to summer childcare had likely signed a contract already, and if the switch had been actually made to Champions, they would have honored that contract and were planning to offer current staff an opportunity to have a job there as well," Samuels said.
Samuels said that with the proposed change in contracts pulled from the June 13 agenda and being reconsidered internally, the district did not have a response to allegations in the letter from The Growing Room.
Conor Healy, a Neil Armstrong parent, also decried the RFP process and lack of communication with parents, but ultimately emphasized the impact that the proposed change would have on parents.
"Overall it does not matter if this was a failure of communication, a failure of planning, or an actual corrupt deal within the district: the reason does not matter, because at this point it would be irresponsible to approve ... Please kick the proposal back to the district to do both the process and the RFP right," Healy wrote.