Google daycare now a luxury for Larry and Sergey's inner circle

Life inside the Googleplex already resembles a daycare center, with its primary colors, bouncy exercise balls, and free food. But if you're a parent working at Google, daycare has become a nightmare. As recently as last July, Google advertised its Kinderplex child-care center as a perk, though the rates it charged weren't much below the market price. The reality: Googlers haven't been able to get their kids into the Kinderplex, thanks to a long waiting list, and the facility is now closing, being replaced by overpriced facilities designed at the behest of Susan Wojcicki, the multimillionaire sister-in-law of Google cofounder Sergey Brin and mother of four. Google employee-parents are up in arms — not over the price hike itself, but over the way the decision came down from on high.

Wojcicki has modest tastes in cars: She chauffeurs her kids in a Honda Odyssey minivan. But when it comes to spending Google's money, she is far less thrifty. Wojcicki, an early Google employee, was dissatisfied with Google's Kinderplex, which has been run by an outside firm, CCLC. CCLC is used by many companies in the Valley, including Cisco and Electronic Arts, but it wasn't good enough for Wojcicki, who pulled her children out, and set about designing a new Google-owned facility, with a blank check from Brin.

The Kinderplex is losing its lease this month. The Woods and the Wetlands, as Google's new child-care facilities are known, are implausibly plush — and proved hard to staff until Brin and cofounder Larry Page were dissuaded from rejecting caregivers who didn't have a 3.5 GPA from a top school.

The price is likewise out of sight. One of the new centers has 18,500 square feet for 80 children — or 230 sq. ft. per child. Minimum licensing requirements are 35 sq. ft. of usable floor space per child; a more generous recommendation is 50 sq. ft. per child. Even allowing for some space for other uses, that seems extravagant. Brin told employees that the new centers cost $40,000 a year per child to operate — more than the roughly $30,000 a year Google planned to charge employees, but also far above market rates.

That number was also a 75 percent increase over Kinderplex's near-market fees, and the figure sent Googlers, ever driven by data, into a frenzy of mathematical modeling. Detailed proposals for reducing the cost of the centers came out — and were ignored.

Google's chief child-care officer sent an email out a few weeks ago promising that prices wouldn't be raised 75 percent. Sure enough, they weren't. Instead, Google's head of HR, Laszlo Bock, told employees earlier this week that prices would be raised a mere ... 70 percent.

The monthly fee for a preschooler is rising from $1,070 to $1,710; for an infant, it's rising from $1,470 to $2,390. At those prices, one parent says, if you had two kids, you could afford to just hire a nanny instead.

For the likes of Wojcicki, a top Google executive and an IPO lottery winner, those costs are inconsequential; having a luxurious child-care center near the Google campus is more important. But for workaday Googlers, especially those who didn't join the company before the IPO, those prices are out of sight. Even Bock, Google's chief people officer who was saddled with the unfortunate task of explaining Wojcicki's decisions, has told fellow Googlers he will take his children elsewhere rather than pay the new rates.

We hear that one top Google lawyer has quit over the price hike — not because she couldn't afford it, but because the way Brin's inner circle decided it, without consulting the data. (This departure may come back to haunt the company.)

Google used to be a place where rank didn't matter: If the numbers showed you were right, Larry and Sergey could be persuaded. That Brin let his sister-in-law's wealthy whims rule over the interests of hundreds, if not thousands, of working Googlers shows that Google is becoming yet another big company, with an insular clique at its heart. What it proves is that at Google today, it's not what you know. It's who you know.

How lucky for Wojcicki's kids that her mother has friends in high places. How unfortunate that other parents don't. One can't fault Wojcicki for wanting good things for her children. But doing so with Google's money, creating a luxury service affordable only to top executives and IPO lottery winners? That's inexcusable.