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Palo Alto Unified gets into hot water with parents over child care

Original post made on May 12, 2022

Parents are objecting to what they describe as a lack of transparency in Palo Alto Unified's decision making after school administrators decided to take space away from a local child care provider and give it to a national company.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 12, 2022, 4:57 PM

Comments (25)

Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 12, 2022 at 6:05 pm

Teacher is a registered user.

Meet Don Austin! Welcome to the party, people. This is how he rolls. He is rude, flippant, unprofessional, and definitely not a transparent decision maker. This is how many decisions in PAUSD are made. He makes decisions based on what is in his political best interest. You elected him, or at least the Board that chose him and keeps choosing to keep him, and you can also vote him/them out.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on May 12, 2022 at 6:06 pm

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

"intentions are pure" just the actions suck.
I believe there is a reason why there is a popular expression that goes, "Actions speak louder than words."

Watch his actions while his words try to distract you.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on May 12, 2022 at 6:08 pm

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

Agree with @Teacher. Numerous parents throughout Palo Alto, the moment they voice any disagreement or question something, he sends out the most rudest emails to parents. If every parent who received a rude email from Don Austin read it at the Board district meetings, we would have to question why the Board supported hiring Don Austin, and why the Board is still in power today, pushing their own personal agendas.

Posted by Sriley90
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2022 at 6:15 pm

Sriley90 is a registered user.

The idea that the intentions are pure - is just not honest. He said that PACCC does not offer SCHOLARSHIPS. does he even know anything about this program? I will be flat out. I was a PACCC scholarship kid in 1990 and my 4 children are CURRENT scholarship kids from infant -toddler through preschool and again in the after school program. PACCC has been where I felt safe as a child and where my children felt safe and supported when doing elementary school online. I am very disturbed and find it comical that right at school felt this video was speaking so highly of them while throwing dirt on PACCCS name. Clearly his words are a distraction to the underlying message here. I almost wonder if there is a conflict of interest with right at school and Mr.Austin. That should be looked into as to feel so passionate about them disturbs me.

Posted by Camocho
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 12, 2022 at 6:35 pm

Camocho is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] If you say anything against [Don Austin] he will write the rudest and meanest thing and shut you up like a bad politician! His agenda is to rise up the ladder - that’s IT! The board will facilitate that since their agenda is also similar!
This sup and the board has to be flipped! Otherwise this school is going downhill. I know this family of three little kids who moved to Danville; another family moved out of state just because this school isn’t the same as it was before!

Posted by super chicana
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 12, 2022 at 7:55 pm

super chicana is a registered user.

Zoe, thank you for covering this. It gives a lot of insight into the Superintendent’s feelings about this community. I would argue he is less than honest with the community when he states that he is concerned with equity and access. My daughter is a Native American child and we have had a nightmare of a time with access. If you would like to contact me about our family’s story please call me at (415)297-6009.( Or any parents fighting the district with an IEP call me. Let’s compare legal notes.) I get these are separate issues but the district is managed by the same group of people with very similar approaches to most things. I encourage you to please keep digging and follow the money. What is Right At School promising districts or individual superintendents? It must be enough to disrupt business as usual. What is to be gained by the district and at what cost to the community? One should ask themselves what is in for a superintendent that is just passing through to end PACCC? None of them stay long, many are forced to resign, and PACCC has been part of Palo Alto for almost 50 years.My children went there and the quality is not surpassed. They have mature, kind adults that provide great care to children. Why would someone want to disrupt our established child care? I think the best way to evaluate a company is by what the workers say. Maybe some of this info will help the parents:
Web Link
One, I can see mangers are out of state. This means cheap labor, lack of connection with the community and definitely not shared CA values of inclusivity. Secondly, staff complain about turn over and abuse by management. They are based in Illinois. None of this aligns with CA values. Would it also prevent labor law suits? Sounds a lot like corporate greed, good ol boys network and a shady super trying to sell it all to a very smart cohesive community who you cannot “politically” pull one over on. Kudos to the parents.

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 12, 2022 at 7:55 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

"that's our approach ... the slow drip" ....

Just wow.

What leadership we have. Eroding trust and quality, drip by drip. Imagine how lost the average Palo Alto parent would be without a big strong leader, teaching them day by day the realpolitik always lurking behind the curtain when you're talking about wrap-around childcare. Just wow.

Here's a better idea, with as little cynicism as I can muster. If what you are trying to do would never play if you were open and honest about aims and intentions, and it wouldn't fly with your community if not for histrionics and misdirections and false motives... well, then maybe you'd be better off not doing it? Maybe.

Posted by PA Streets
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 12, 2022 at 8:02 pm

PA Streets is a registered user.

I wanted to like this superintendent but his flippant and ignorant comments about PACCC show that he does not respect our community. He lacks transparency and accountability. He has directed all questions to Yolanda Conway who in turn passed the buck back to Don Austin. I hope the Weekly does more digging and checks if Austin has a conflict of interest with Right at School. Did they pay for him to attend that conference where he spoke on that infamous video? RAS is a for profit business and is not accredited. It’s just a glorified daycare. PACCC has been an integral part of our community for nearly 50 years. Their teachers help our kids with homework in their elementary after-school programs. I doubt RAS provides the same level of care. PAUSD board better take note regarding this superintendent’s actions and lack of respect for our community.

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 12, 2022 at 8:08 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

"Did they pay for him to attend that conference where he spoke on that infamous video? RAS is a for profit business and is not accredited. It’s just a glorified daycare."

... as much as I have been disheartened by Don Austin's demeanor and decisions, that's not a suspicion that you can throw around, even if stated as a question. If it were true, it would be an egregious and almost certainly job-disqualifying ethics violation. If you know something, say it and cite it. If not... well... then don't.

As for your frustration with the buck being passed around, I can't agree more. Usually Todd Collins plays middle-man in that carousel. Maybe he's dizzy.

Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 12, 2022 at 8:32 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

Is there anyone that still believes that Don Austin has any concern for students, families or the community? He talks a good game in public, but he's usually scheming behind the scenes.

Even this won't stop him from trying to get to his end game.

He thinks he's clever, funny and charming. He's actually just a bully who will say anything in order to get his way. I'm actually shocked that some of the board members continue to put up with it.

How's that whole "transparency" thing going?

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2022 at 9:57 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Does anyone else notice that for the last 15 years or so, nobody has had a good word to say for any of the superintendents PAUSD has gone through!

I have no idea of the competentcy of the present superintendent from any type of experience as our kids are no longer in school, but I will add a cliche of warning.

Better the devil you know than the one you don't!

The next one, judging from past experiences, will be no better.

Posted by Nancy Shepherd
a resident of Southgate
on May 13, 2022 at 7:31 am

Nancy Shepherd is a registered user.

Palo Alto has been a leader in childcare for over 50 years. In 1969 six mothers asked Palo Alto City Council to provide high quality affordable child care so women could go back to work. In 1974 PACCC organized as a nonprofit heavily subsidized by the City with two staff members in the city managers office. In 1989 a 25 year lease between the City and PAUSD was created for on campus care and we have been delivering these service continually since that time.

PACCC is required to be licensed and offer high quality program based on Department of Education standards for early childhood education (ECE) which identifies specific student-teacher ratios. We recruit staff with college degrees or equivalent work experience in ECE, some hold masters degrees. We pay fair wage based on job title, and start pay at living wage for SCC (about $23/hour). Tuition is $50 more than RAS, we have a low attrition rate of staff and families, and high feedback from parents rating our programs. We continue to evolve to meet the needs of families and kids.

Our Family Partnership Program developed in 2001 combines City, PAUSD and PACCC funds for scholarship and subsidy programs to qualifying families.

PACCC is a product of thought leadership that established seamless education for families beginning at 2 months old. I’m proud to serve on the shoulders of these leaders as PACCC Board Chair this year and be part of a Palo Alto legacy project.

Posted by Tod
a resident of Green Acres
on May 13, 2022 at 9:43 am

Tod is a registered user.

Another great article Zoe…gold mine for you…especially austin denying an interview then pushing you off on the vice principal and being bounced back up….makes you wonder what is at the superintendent’s discretion…it’s tricky to run a school district and in hindsight the damn the torpedoes mindset served well in the fear of Covid… but when you set yourself up in opposition to the schools nonprofit ecosystem and casually promote a for profit option.. that is unpaid promotion and really stupid… a payoff is not the issue it’s the dividing, lack of trust building and petty selfishness…he shouldn’t be making that decision and if he doesn’t understand that then he needs to work on transitioning…many school districts are at a point where fiscal cutbacks might warrant a lower cost provider.. but to target institutions in this manner is indicative if not grounds for dismissal… can’t have that know better attitude and not kill the morale of a system run on the backs of parent involvement then stonewall… it’s a shame

Posted by Diana
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2022 at 9:53 am

Diana is a registered user.

I was one of the parents affected by this issue and fought hard to reverse the decision. However, I agree with a previous comment that the job of PAUSD superintendent is an impossible one, in terms of pleasing most of the community. Yes, the comments that Don made were a bit off, yes, sometimes his behaviour may be a bit lacking, but overall I think he is an effective superintendent, so let's try to bring some balance into the conversation and not demonize these people. The PAUSD is a well run district that provides excellent educational opportunities for our children, the PAUSD parent community (of which I am a vocal member) is also particularly demanding and hard to please.

Posted by peppered
a resident of Community Center
on May 13, 2022 at 11:14 am

peppered is a registered user.

A superintendent who declines to respond to questions by the press, in the manner that Austin did in this case, should be fired the same damn day.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2022 at 11:18 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

I agree with Don Austin and the District. Just because PACCC has been historically serving Palo Atto since 1974 does not mean it's doing a great job. As a low income, working single parent with three small children I filled out the application for full after-school care. I was put on a dizzyingly long wait list. When dealing with PACCC regarding my eligibility and status, I felt they were dismissive and unconcerned with my desperation to find good, safe, supervisory, care for my kids. It felt like an exclusive club that shuffled me off with words like, "Unfortunately , no bandwidth, lack of budget." In the end I was too poor and did not have the income for 100% or at 75% shared cost (which would have gotten my kids in). 100% coverage was a long shot and impacted by "budgetary" City funding limits. Emails and phone calls were not returned and I had to chase them down to get answers to basic questions about my application and need. Though I fell in the extremely low income level, there was no referrals for any other resource provided in Palo Alto to help us. It felt extremely humiliating to go to such personal lengths to reveal all about my finances, get reference etc, only to get nothing from them in the mail, or a phone call to tell me they were at capacity and my kids were not "selected" to participate. I had to find out that the waitlist was five years out and worse even having one or more children near the same age. Which I was astounded and shocked to hear. Their staff was not very welcoming or concerned for the welfare of children. The City of Palo Alto does not subsidize enough for such critical "social infrastructure". Why not go National? Since the City is miserly about funding anything other than paid "private consultants" and kicking cans down the road.

Posted by D. Smith
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2022 at 11:19 am

D. Smith is a registered user.

It seems as though Mr. Austin is here soley to feed his own ego and do exactly what he wants with little or no regard for the opinion of others. That way he can go out with a bang!
It isn't the first time that a superintendent has used our district for that purpose!

Posted by Forever Name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2022 at 12:24 pm

Forever Name is a registered user.

PAUSD Superintendent works for the Board. They hired Austin. You get what you vote for. Vote the current Board out, and a more competent Board will fire Austin & bring someone new in.

Upcoming Elections:
Keep in mind all of the decisions that PAUSD Board has made that have been wrong & destructive, with data to support. Apparently Board is hoping these will be forgotten? For example, the damage PAUSD secondary schools being online for 1 year did to disadvantaged & minority students who were hit the hardest, supported by data (recent NYT article, David Leonhardt, Pulizter Prize winning investigative reporter). Keep in mind many of these TERRIBLE ideas were championed/pushed through by Jennifer DiBrienza. Fact: in PA Online article DiBrienza quoted false statement saying she listened to the "experts", not the teachers union, and voted to keep "schools open", when in reality she voted along with the board unanimously in Aug 2020 to keep secondary schools 7-12 closed for an additional six months. Here are examples of destructive, unethical ideas approved by Jennifer DiBrienza and the rest of your PAUSD School Board:
- closing PAUSD secondary schools for a full year unnecessarily to appease PAEA Teachers Union March 2020 - March 2021
- early start time @ 9am for secondary starting fall 2022; both teachers & students have expressed they hate
- push for CMF (Calif Math Framework) new math program created by Prof Jo Boaler, now being investigated for fraudulent research at Stanford Univ (see WSJ article); focuses on enjoying the idea of math instead of mastering skills. Stanford Prof Brian Conrad, head of undergraduate math at Stanford, has analyzed & stated publically CMF will be destructive for all students, but especially disadvantaged students, who will be unprepared for STEM majors/careers
- supporting Austin in firing local PACC managers & bringing in a for profit national company

All supported by Jennifer DiBrienza & the current School Board.


Posted by Mrs Norman Conradson
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 13, 2022 at 1:01 pm

Mrs Norman Conradson is a registered user.

I was hired as a day care provider at Neighborhood Infant and Toddler Center (NITC) many years ago. I had a bachelors degree in psychology and a Masters degree in Social Work as well as many units at university level in Early Childhood Education. I loved the children and the high standards and the parent interaction. I am so sorry if the finances are such that those same high qualities cannot also provide enough care for all the children in the community who need it. I know that even in my day, there were waiting lists because the amount of spaces in order to keep to the teacher child ratio were extremely limited, but are so necessary for quality care.

Posted by super chicana
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2022 at 1:52 pm

super chicana is a registered user.

Dear Native of the Bay Area,

As a native of the bay you should be aware of 4Cs. It’s a state program administered by the counties. They will give emergencies child care funding to anyone in need. If you are going to lose your job or housing due to child care issues they will move you to the top of the list and have you funded within a week. They will pay for all 3 kids in full and PACCC will accept their funding.

Sounds like instead of the super helping you with this you became his mouth piece. A National program lacks the quality of care that Palo Alto families demand. Massive cheap childcare with poorly trained disgruntled labor (see the link with my previous post) may be a reality in many places, it does not have to be in Palo Alto. Palo Alto has the right to quality care. Reach out to 4cs. If your situation is as dire as you state, there are multiple programs available. The district should have referred you to help instead of pimped you for their cause.

If Right AT Home is such a great program why do they have to latch on to taxpayer money and schools districts like parasites? If they are that good at what they do they should open up a center in the open market and people will come. They use public land/ space for private profit. What a scam!!!

They are after FREE RENT. And someone at the district has something to gain in some way…….

Posted by EYC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2022 at 2:59 pm

EYC is a registered user.

My kid was in Addison for 6 years, Kinder-5th. We were on the PACCC's waiting line for at least 3 years. It's impossible to get in if you don't have older siblings who were already in the program. Usually there were only a small numbers of 4th and 5th graders in the program because they had after-school sports practices. Or they lost interests in the program because they had been there for 3 years already. They got tired of it. So, it may not impact much if the new company eliminate taking care of 4th & 5th.
So, change maybe good for the community.

Posted by Parent-PAUSD
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2022 at 4:00 pm

Parent-PAUSD is a registered user.

As the parent of a special needs kid in PAUSD, I explored 3 aftercare options for my kid (PACCC, RAS, JCC). While I found all of them very responsive and welcoming, when we compared the location proximity, cost, waitlists and inclusiveness in practice, we choose RAS over PACCC. RAS was more responsive, welcomed my kid's therapist on-site and was willing to listen and accommodate our requests proactively. PACCC on the other hand offered a waitlist and I paid the waitlist cost and enrolled. JCC was far for us (commute-wise) and was not an option.

While the debate can and should continue to have PACCC at school-sites, I do think have 2-3 after-school providers at school-site gives the parents a choice and an opportunity to choose what works for them. Non-profit and For-profit are not preliminary concerns for me since finding affordable child-care that is inclusive is preliminary and everything else comes later. Just my perspective.

Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Triple El
on May 13, 2022 at 4:39 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

This leadership does not represent our community values. We value transparency, clear communication, honesty and care for our children. Let's be really clear here, Dr. Don is not serving your child, the schools, the unions, other administrators or anyone else. He only serves a minimum of 3 PAUSD Board members. That's it. Those are the only people he needs to make happy. Apparently they're all happy with this situation, since they are all completely silent. Reach out and let them know your opinion. This institution is in grave danger of being seriously, permanently harmed by this leadership. That will affect our children. This incident gives a small window into what's going on. For further information, I urge you to consult the Palo Alto Educator's Association's social media. The numbers they've posted are pretty shocking.

Posted by Community Member
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2022 at 11:29 pm

Community Member is a registered user.

Dear EYC,
Long waitlists at PACCC may have happened during the bubble but is less impacted now and that would be a reason to expand PACCC. Offering another provider isn’t the issue, cutting space for current providers so they can’t continue to serve families that want continuity of care is.
Dear Native of the Bay,
If you didn’t attend PACCC then you cannot attest to the quality of care. Again like EYC, your waitlist issue would be resolved with expanding PACCC not taking away. The tuition difference is $50 a month and the experienced teachers and high quality standards PACCC meets as evidenced by licensing and teacher to child ratios as well as paying their teachers at a living wage means that $50 goes a long way. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles and recommend looking into the resources suggested by super chicana.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
7 hours ago

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

@community member @super Chicana. Very aware of 4C,s. Worked there as a teen. Also my mother worked for them for years. PACCC did not return calls, emails, has very little empathy for my situation, did not refer me to 4C’s either. Austin was not the super during the “bubble” when I was in dire need of local after school care .

Why is there not a Federal Head Start nursery school program located in Palo Alto ? In another town I served as an acting board officer — great program.

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