Sudbury city council wants out of daycare business

Sudbury city councillors voted Monday night to find someone else to operate the city-run Junior Citizens daycare.
Dozens of parents and daycare workers rallied outside a Sudbury council meeting in June 2013 concerned about the possibility of closing the city-run Junior Citizens Daycare. Council now is hoping to find another agency to take it over the 120-space centre. (Erik White/CBC)

Sudbury city councillors voted Monday night to find someone else to operate the city-run Junior Citizens daycare. 

The city councillors who sit on the community services committee endorsed a plan to find a new operator for the city-run Junior Citizens Daycare by 2015.

City staff argue that running the 120-spot centre would cost half as much if it wasn't part of the city.

The annual budget for the day care centre, which is downtown in the YMCA building, is $1.2 million. That works out to about $94 per child per day. Staff say the average for a community agency running a day care centre in Sudbury is $43 a day.

The city started looking at its child care system because the province cut $1.8 million from its funding last year and is threatening to cut $3.6 million more in 2016. The province says Greater Sudbury has been overfunded when it comes to child care and wants to shift that money to other Ontario cities that have been shortchanged.

Sudbury city staff argued that if these cuts are as deep as expected, the total number of subsidized child care spots in Sudbury will be affected.

Numbers crunched by staff project that a $3.6 million child care funding cut would mean 605 fewer day care spots in the city. But staff argue that if they didn't have to foot the bill for running Junior Citizens Daycare, the money saved there, could save spots for about 200 children.

Debating alternatives

Tracy Saarikoski runs the not-for-profit Teddy Bear Daycare and helped the city draw up this new plan.

She praised the pioneer role Junior Citizens has played over the last 42 years by serving Sudbury's shift workers and single parents.

"That incubation piece is very important," Saarikoski told a committee room crowded with Junior Citizens staff and supporters. "But it's not saying that no one else can offer that service."

City councillor Claude Berthiaume is worried that what staff call "savings" is just slicing down the salaries of daycare workers, since the main reason that the city-run daycare is more expensive is because the workers are paid more.

"It's again the race to the bottom again," said Berthiaume. "I will not be able to support this recommendation."

He was the lone vote against the plan at the community services committee, but it will need the stamp of all of city council before going ahead.

Sudbury City councillor Terry Kett said he likes the plan, but is hoping it can be done by the end of the year, not the end of 2015.

"So that this council can finish a job that's been very difficult and very important to all of us to do this and do this right," he said.

Kett pointed out that there could be as many as five new faces around the council table after the election this October, which could make an entirely different decision.

Sudbury city council is set to vote next week, as is another northern Ontario city facing a similar decision.

Sault Ste. Marie city council will vote on contracting out its three city-run day care centres to other operators. The union representing the day care workers is taking out radio ads in the Sault this week, calling on city council to keep the centres under the city umbrella.


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