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City looks at options for closing downtown daycare

Members of the community services committee will be considering a couple of options Jan. 21 on how best to wind down operations at the city’s downtown daycare centre.
Junior Citizens Daycare will cost taxpayers about $129,000 in 2013, council was told Dec. 4, and a staff report expected in January will outline the best way for the city to wind down its 120-space daycare. File photo.

Members of the community services committee will be considering a couple of options Jan. 21 on how best to wind down operations at the city’s downtown daycare centre.

The 120-space daycare is located in the downtown YMCA building, where the city leases space. At a community services committee meeting Dec. 3, 2012, councillors were told the facility will cost taxpayers about $129,000 in 2013. 

The primary reason is the 22 staff at the daycare – 10 full time, 12 part time – are unionized city workers, so wage and benefit costs are about 50 per cent higher than for staff at non-profit daycares.

The staff report offers two options for gradually closing the day care. 

The first would see the city stop taking new clients starting in March. That way, children would incrementally graduate out of the facility, minimizing the impact on families, and giving private operators time to increase their capacity.

“This option would also allow for existing spaces to become available in the core of the city for the families that wish to transition before 2015,” the report reads. “Furthermore, children services staff would be able to plan for a small expansion of new spaces within the community to allow for the accommodation of JCDC parents by 2015.”

The option would also minimize disruption among staff at the centre, who are unionized city employees and have the right to bump other city staffers with less experience.

“The managed reduction in staff would allow for a smoother transition over the next 2.5 years as some natural attrition would take place along with giving staff more options to bid into other city jobs or exercising their rights under the collective bargaining agreement,” the report concludes.

The second option would be to maintain enrolment until 2015, which would allow current families to stay in the program, and even re-enter should they take a break.

However, it increases the likelihood some families won’t be ready for 2015, and it may make it harder for the city to absorb all the employees, who will lose their jobs at the same time.

The first option, however, creates a different problem, in that some staff may leave early when a job opens up somewhere else in the city, meaning it may be necessary to hire temporary staff to fill the gaps.

Another issue addressed in the report is the fact the city’s daycare is the only one in the city that offers evening hours to its clients. Once the decision is made to close the Junior Citizen’s Day Care, staff will begin negotiating with private daycares on offering evening service.

The city offers a startup grant to operators opening daycares, and the staff report says it may be worthwhile to offer a similar grant to a daycare willing to open an evening program.

“Staff is proposing using an evening program enhancement grant in this case, which would be funded from provincial dollars, in order to subsidize the cost of starting evening programming at a centre or centres,” the report says.

“This grant would take into account the size of the group that is licensed and the corresponding staffing ratio, along with a top up for meals.”

The grant itself would be a maximum of $30,000 to be provided over the next two years. The earliest a private operator would begin offering evening service is in April, with the latest being in September 2014, depending on which option council chooses for closing the city daycare.

“While there are providers that have shown an interest in evening care, staff cannot guarantee a final agreement to replace the programming, even with an enhanced grant,” the report says.

“Furthermore, staff cannot guarantee that an evening program will run indefinitely even if it is started. In the end, parental demand needs to be sufficient to cover operating costs of running an evening program.”

Darren MacDonald

About the Author: Darren MacDonald

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