THUNDER BAY – The existing city-run child care centres will continue to be operated at their current locations, with council voting against options that could save as much as $140,000 per year.
Thunder Bay city council on Monday night unanimously voted to maintain the course and keep open the four facilities, which currently have staffed occupancy capacity for 262 children.
Three years ago a task force was struck to determine the long-term future for city-operated child care. Administration identified three options – continuing with the status quo, moving the Algoma Child Care centre to a school or amalgamating both the Algoma facility and the Grace Remus Child Care Centre with the program relocated to a school.
Coun. Andrew Foulds said any debate about the future of the facilities needs to be about more than dollars and cents.
“We are not just talking about babysitting here,” Foulds said. “We are talking about early childhood education. In my view, it’s a lot more profound than the private sector making profit on this. In my view, child care has a broader public interest. The programming that happens in child care centres matters.”
The relocation of the Algoma facility would have been projected to save $45,000 annually while the consolidation of the two locations and transferring it to a school was calculated to cut $142,000 from the budget.
Triin Hart, whose children attend the Algoma centre, submitted a petition with 46 signatures to council calling for the facility to remain operational.
“The cost savings are not worth cutting service for hundreds of families over the years to come,” Hart said. “The savings for the city do not warrant relocating this important service.”
City administration has identified $116,000 in cost saving measures to offset increases to the program’s budget. The resolution approved by council also directs administration to have discussions with the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board about renovating the Algoma site.
Coun. Frank Pullia, who was a member of the task force, said scaling back child care options could hurt the city.
“The incremental savings to make any changes now would have unintended consequences, especially at a time we’re trying to encourage young families to move to Thunder Bay,” Pullia said. “Child care is very, very important for working families.”
The report also showed there are 861 children currently on the wait list for a spot.
“My belief is we need more child care spots in this city,” Foulds said. “Not only does it support families, the economic impacts of investing in child care are pretty clear. The economic input of mothers and fathers who are able to work when they have affordable child care, you can’t measure that.”
Coun. Rebecca Johnson, who also sat on the task force, said she joined the initiative to look at how to get the city out of the child-care business.
“At the same time, I recognize the fact we couldn’t get out of the daycare business because it wasn’t possible for a number of reasons,” Johnson said.
“I would hope even if we pass this (Monday night) that this isn’t just going to go and we’ll just keep on paying 0.5 per cent (of the tax levy) and we’ll just keep doing those kinds of things without looking at how do we actually eventually get out of this business, if in fact there are enough private sector individuals that can come along and take this.”