Parents are up in arms over the Region of Waterloo’s plans to close the five daycare centres it runs, including one in Elmira.
Councillors are expected to back a consultant’s report outlining ways to trim costs to avoid a projected $25-million budget deficit. That would be a reversal of the situation five years ago where another KPMG recommendation was turned down.
The closures – four of the locations would be shuttered in mid-2021, with the Elmira centre at a later date – would save about $6.8 million, the consultants said. The move would see the regional government stop providing services directly while continuing to oversee some 14,000 childcare spaces and 67 operators in the region, private and non-profit.
Regional Chair Karen Redman said the decision would be a difficult one, arguing some changes must be made given that the regional spaces amount to about two per cent of the total but take up about 10 per cent of the funding.
“COVID-19 has created significant challenges because there is lower enrolment for childcare providers across the region, due to spacing requirements. And these challenges are impacting the sustainability of some childcare programs, and additional funding is now required to maintain childcare spaces. In order to protect a very fragile system and ensure a more equitable and affordable system, particularly for those who are most vulnerable, the region realizes some difficult and prudent decisions need to be made,” said Redman in a media briefing last week, ahead of a public meeting Wednesday. A special council meeting to decide the matter is scheduled for December 2.
News of the planned closures caused something of an uproar on social media, with scores of people signing up to speak at the online public forum Wednesday.
Keri Linscott, a parent in the community with a child who attends the Elmira centre, called the region’s move ill-considered, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
“The prospect of closing or off-loading childcare centres during a pandemic is shameful. These centres play an important role in the childcare system in the Region of Waterloo. Especially [in] Elmira where there are not a lot of options for licensed childcare. I have my daughter on the waiting list for the infant program and there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to finding spaces,” said Linscott. Linscott argued the region has ploughed ahead with much transparency or collaboration with the community, adding she is unhappy with the process because this was very sudden and does not seem to have a full public review.
Also fighting the planned closures is the union representing the employees of the regional childcare centres, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Noelle Fletcher, president of CUPE Local 1883, says the closure will not only negatively impact the families who send their kids to these centres, but employees – the majority of whom are women – will be put in precarious work situations.
“The impact is that they’re going to be losing, and it’s all women.They’re going to be losing good-paying with benefits jobs, and the result of that can be that they may be able to find work at other childcare [centres] but those childcare [centres] are not going to pay the same wage, which people can look at as good and bad. We all know that ECE’s (early childhood educators) childcare teachers are grossly underpaid. They have been for a long time, and investing in the community is also investing indecent quality work for women,” said Fletcher.
While the region has suggested some of the savings from the closures could go back into the daycare system, there are no specifics, including guarantees there will be spots in underserviced areas such as Elmira, she added.
The region “has not given really any concrete indication that the money that they take away from the childcare centres is going to be used for additional childcare spots, so that is very concerning.”
Late Tuesday evening, the region did provide an update to parents, releasing a statement about the timing of any transition.
“Due to obligations to continue child care operations at Elmira Children’s Centre the transition plan for Elmira will be completed separately. The plan will be created in collaboration with the Waterloo Region District School Board and Ministry of Education with consideration of WRDSB-ROW Joint Use Agreement and CUPE 1883 collective agreement. According to the Joint Use Agreement, 365 days notice is required to transfer operations at Elmira to a different child care operator.”
Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz noted because there is an agreement with the school board, they will be looking at how to best approach continuing the centre in Elmira. What remains up in the air is whether the region will find a way to run it or another provider will take over the operation.