News Local

Daycare funding unclear

By Nathan Taylor, Orillia Packet & Times

There is concern that school boards will have to subsidize before-and after-school programs when the province's all-day kindergarten initiative begins in the fall.

All-day kindergarten will take place at 16 of the Simcoe County District School Board's schools. School boards are also mandated to provide before-and after-school care.

Individual boards will be determining how much to charge for that program, but some trustees fear they'll have to subsidize it in order to make it affordable.

"We can't afford to start subsidizing daycare for before and after school. We can't do it at the expense of our programming," said Jodi Lloyd, trustee for Ramara, Severn and Tay townships. "It's a wonderful service. However, it needs to be on a 100% cost-recovery basis."

The concern from staff is that 100% cost recovery might not be achievable while, at the same time, charging a reasonable fee.

If the fee is higher than other daycare options in the community, "their likelihood is to leave the school and not take part in the extended-day program, and that kind of defeats the purpose of the extended-day program," associate director Carol McAulay said, noting the point is to maintain continuity for the children.

The Ministry of Education is also strongly encouraging boards to offer the before-and after-school program at the schools that are hosting all-day kindergarten, she said.

Trustees had similar concerns when the Best Start program was introduced, said Orillia trustee Debra Edwards.

"There are more questions than answers," she said.

More clarity will come when the province announces its education grants for boards, she said.

"Once we see the colour of the money, we will see if there's a shortfall, and if there is, there's a problem," she said. "Short of a miracle, I'm not expecting a good-news announcement in the upcoming education grants."

All-day kindergarten will be offered at eight schools in the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, including St. Bernard's Catholic School in Orillia, and local trustee Jim Canning has some concerns, too.

"We don't know very much detail about what those costs are going to be. Certainly, it's a concern," he said.

If the fees are too high for some families, they could still send their kids to the all-day kindergarten program, but before and after school, they'd be more apt to send them to daycare or a babysitter, he said.

He also shared the concerns about funding.

"We need to be reimbursed by the ministry for whatever it is we do," Canning said, noting the ministry is the sole source of funding for boards. "Other than that, we'd have to cut into other programs, which we don't want to do."

Staff at both boards are working with the province to determine the program requirements and costs.

"My concerns are the unknowns," said Michael O'Keefe, director of education with the Catholic board. "I don't know what the fee will end up being."

But, he assured, the board supports the program.

"It's got great potential for providing a nice, seamless transition," he said.

Lloyd feels the all-day kindergarten

program -- which is being phased in over the next five years, beginning this September -- "is being done very quickly," and added teachers, principals and boards across the province are concerned.

"It's coming out in bits and drabs here and there," she said.

McAulay said the board has a "pretty clear picture of what the program is to look like," but there are still questions about what the board's role will be in some areas.

"We're not in the business, normally, of collecting fees," she said, noting there will be added administrative responsibility for billing and collecting.

Some families receive government subsidies for daycare, also, and McAulay is unsure how or if that will work with school boards.

"These are not insurmountable things," she said. "Early learning is a great program for kids."

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