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City Council presses daycare hot button, one more time

Nick Apostle, the city's commissioner of community services, says moving daycares into schools is feasible, but not a viable idea.
Three daycare moms and a local child care worker are expected to address the hot-button child care issue at Monday night's City Council meeting.

When the child care lobby hits City Council, you definitely know they're there.

The council chambers and overflow area quickly fill with resplendent, awesome, inquisitive, boundlessly energetic anklebiters.

The last time Sault Ste. Marie councillors dared to press the daycare hot button was in December of last year.

After almost three hours of moppet-blessed deliberations, council narrowly voted to stay in the child care business, even though it loses money each year providing 100 city-run daycare spaces.

Child care is back on the agenda for Monday night's City Council meeting.

Three daycare moms are expected to address the meeting: Jill Micomonaco, Sarah Miller and Kayla Eddy, as well as Maria Guido, a daycare staffer.

This time, the focus will be on whether city daycares should be moved to local schools.

Councillors will be presented with a report by Nick Apostle, the city's commissioner of community services.

Apostle stops short of making a recommendation on the issue.

But he does conclude that moving city daycares into schools is feasible, but not viable.

According to Apostle's research, there are currently 19 child care centres hosted by schools in Algoma District:

  • Algoma District School Board (ADSB) schools now have 12 child care centres. Three of them provide only before- and after-school programs. Two are alternative programs for high-school-age students (Etienne Brule and Prince Charles).
  • In the future, ADSB has served notice that it would like to have centres at Rosedale Public School (in the old Alexander Henry High School) and at Francis H. Clergue Public School.
  • At ADSB's Isabel Fletcher Public School, a daycare was built last year but so far no licensed service provider has been chosen to occupy the space. 
  • Huron Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB) schools currently host five child care centres. One is a half-day program in the former Holy Angels School. Three others are before- and after-school programs. Holy Family School has had a daycare operated by city staff for more than five years.
  • Construction of a daycare has been approved for HSCDSB's St. Basil School. It's expected to offer 49 full-day spaces and 56 before- and after-school spots by mid-September, 2017.
  • The Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario has one child care centre at Notre Dame Du Sault School. 

Apostle concludes that with daycare providers being sought for Isabel Fletcher Public School and St. Basil School, it would be feasible to move the municipal daycare operations onto those two sites without displacing children from the program.

Moving the municipal daycares into schools would result in operational savings between $150,000 and $175,000 as well as capital savings of about $1 million spread over 25 years, he estimates.

But Apostle argues that a move to schools is still not viable, for the following reasons:

  • Provincial funding models are constantly changing, making it difficult for the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) to guarantee its level of future financial commitment. 
  • Even with the cost savings from moving to schools, municipal daycares would continue to lose an estimated $310,000 a year.
  • The city pays a premium for its child care spaces, effectively creating a two-tiered system. The city plays an annual levy to DSSMSSAB for its share of all daycare spaces funded by DSSMSSAB. The city also covers the operating losses of three municipally operated daycares.
  • Getting out of the daycare business would provide a financially equitable daycare program for the community. The city would pay just the annual levy to DSSMSSAB for its share of daycare spaces funded by DSSMSSAB.
  • It's possible that some or all of the 17 spaces that would remain after a transition to schools may not be reallocated into the system, resulting in an overall reduction in daycare spaces. 

The only related motion on the agenda for Monday's council meeting calls for Apostle's report to be accepted as information.

Monday's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on LOCAL2 beginning at 4:30 p.m.