Daycares, preschool closing in Prince George

Prince George is out two daycares and one preschool after a raft of closures announced in the last week from the Child Development Centre, the College of New Caledonia and the Community Arts Council.

The Child Development Centre is contacting parents to ready them for June 18, the last day its mainstream preschool program will be offered.

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The centre will continue to have specialized pre-schools programming for children with special needs, said executive director Darrell Roze.

"The (mainstream) program is difficult to provide because the costs are simply too high," said Roze, adding because the CDC is a union shop it pays its workers at a much higher rate - likely 50 per cent more - than the average daycare.

Roze said the CDC was expecting money from the Ministry of Children and Family Development but it's unclear if that's coming.

It was connected to cooperative gains negotiations a couple years ago between the province and the Health Employers Association of British Columbia, which represents 115,000 unionized health care employees.

"When the collective agreements were arrived at, the negotiations were supposed to be a zero gains. If one side was to get an increase in costs, it would have to be offset on another side that would be savings," he said.

"There were supposed to be decreased costs," Roze said. "The small agencies like us, we got all of the cost increases, but it seems like the health authorities were the ones that actually got the savings."

In the past two years, he said the ministry either allowed contractors to reduce staff or it has provided money to keep up the existing service.

"This year it's unclear whether that money's coming through."

Three staff are expected to lose their jobs and it will affect up to 16 children in each of the two classes.

The daycare also offered a different service than normal centres because it could provide more assessments.

"Even though we know it's a beneficial service, it's not as close to the core purpose as the specialized preschools we run," Roze said, adding continuing the programming would mean taking away from support for children with delays and special needs.

"We weren't willing to do that."

That closure follows on the footsteps of the College of New Caledonia's proposal to shutter its daycare. The Board of Governors will have to approve that recommendation, along with program suspensions, at the March 27 meeting that covers next year's budget.

The childcare centre was also set to shut down last year when the college faced a $1.2 million deficit, but some last minute options to make it financially viable saved it for a year.

The main income-saving scheme was to add summer theme camps and to maximize more space at the centre.

"None of that happened. That whole component of it collapsed," said CNC president Henry Reiser. "We are willing to work with any non-profit society to try and maintain and keep the daycare open."

Lily Bachand, president of CUPE local 4951, which represents the daycare workers, said she couldn't comment much.

"We are looking at options at the moment but we think it is respectful to talk to the parents of the children first rather than read anything in a paper," Bachand said in an email.

"What I will say is that last year we thought we had enough time to run summer camps but unfortunately we didn't. Rather than do a poor job we decided not to run summer camps."

The daycare had been in operation for more than 30 years and acted as part of the Early Childhood Education program. While the centre is paid in part by student fees, Reiser said the majority of those using the services were community members rather than students or faculty.

A third space for young children was closed in Prince George last week when the Community Arts Council ended its preschool of the arts, a program it had run for more than two decades.

The preschool lost two of its certified early childhood educators and put out a call for replacements, but got no response.

"That kind of made the decision for us," said Wendy Young, arts council executive director.

The two morning programs included an "added layer of arts," with one class at the 20-student capacity and the other just under.

The preschool also acted as a practicum for one CNC student each semester, leaving students without two local options.

Parents weren't happy with the announcement, but Young said the program was free for the first two weeks in March to mitigate the disruption and that all parents had found alternative spaces.

- with files from Citizen reporters

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