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Federal workplace daycare loses government funding to cover rent costs

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Cockburn, Neco
Publication Date: 
31 May 2013



Parents at a daycare that largely looks after children of federal public servants are weighing their options after Public Works said it will stop paying the rent.

The not-for-profit Tupper Tots Daycare has operated out of the Sir Charles Tupper building at 2720 Riverside Dr., near Heron Road, for almost two decades.

It's associated with Public Works and Government Services Canada, which has provided a subsidy to cover rent under a Treasury Board policy for workplace daycare centres.

Parents of 50 children love the bilingual daycare and its staff, said Kristian Marleau, president of its board of directors. They pay market rates - $1,067 a month for toddlers, $881 for preschoolers - to cover operational costs such as salaries, play equipment and food, he said.

They've been told, however, that Public Works intends to stop covering rent costs, which the department puts at more than $224,000 a year. The department has said it's no longer the lead tenant in the building and few, if any, of its employees use the daycare.

Other departments whose employees have children at the daycare, such as Health Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, and the Department of National Defence, have declined to step in and assume the costs.

Health Canada, the building's main tenant, said Friday that use of the daycare by its employees has been "limited," with eight children currently at the daycare. DND said "a number" of its employees use the daycare "on their own terms," and the building is occupied by other departments. The Canada Revenue Agency referred questions to Public Works.

It leaves a volunteer parent board of directors that usually takes care of things like toy budgets and play park improvements with the unenviable task of deciding to significantly hikes fees to pay the rent or move the daycare, said Marleau.

Public Works first gave notice to the board in June 2012, saying funding would continue until June 30 of this year, in recognition of the "complexity" of finding a different funding source or relocating.
(The notice was withdrawn in July 2012, when Public Works stated it was "exploring options to address the funding issue," but the board was told this past January that the department "will no longer continue to pay the rent.")

The department has since agreed to continue funding until Dec. 31, and parents are trying to decide what to do. In a survey this week, most recommended the daycare move.

The daycare has been around since 1994 and has lived up to obligations under the Treasury Board policy by demonstrating that it is financially self-supporting (apart from the rent and a federally subsidized fit-up of the space) and ensuring that at least 70 per cent of children at the daycare have a parent who works for the government, said Marleau, a Canada Post employee with a daughter at the daycare.

The policy is silent on what happens in a case where the associated department no longer wants to cover costs for a well-established, well-used facility, he argued.

A letter sent to Marleau in March from Caroline Weber, assistant deputy minister in the corporate services and strategic policy branch of Public Works, stated that the "establishment and continued support for a daycare is optional (it is not an obligation) and the decision rests with the deputy head.

"We have consulted with all of the departments whose employees are parents using your daycare facility. The 15 consulted departments have all clearly indicated that they are not willing or able to contribute to the rent for the daycare," Weber wrote.

The board had until the end of April to say that it would either leave the space after Dec. 31 or provide a written commitment and proof of financial resources to cover annual rent of $224,000 starting in January 2014.

The board chose the latter option in order to keep the space while it looks for somewhere else, Marleau said. Still, the rent amount being proposed is "grossly excessive" and based on charges for office space, not special purpose space, he said.

The proposed rent has been knocked down to about $209,000, Marleau said, but that wouldn't include cleaning or maintenance and would still result in a significant cost increase for parents.
"It's not acceptable, but that doesn't mean we're not going to pay rent, because our objective here is to make sure that Tupper Tots is still around."

The board is looking at the possibility of relocating to a former elementary school a little more than two kilometres away, at 1000 Brookfield Rd. That would likely come with estimated rent costs of about $94,000 a year, as well as one-time fit-up and relocation expenses of about $120,000, he said.

A move would also present risks, Marleau said. There's a need to get relicensed, and it's unclear whether the daycare could retain its 55 licensed spots. There are also questions about whether parents would stick with the daycare if it changed locations, he said.

Under either option, parents would be in for a rate hike, he said, anything from about $300 to $500 a month. But moving appears to be more sustainable, he said.

"We absolutely can't lose Tupper Tots in the south end. It's so vitally important," Marleau said, adding that finding bilingual or French care in the area is especially difficult.

"Certainly if you were to lose 50 to 55 spots, it would just be, in my opinion, a monumental disaster."

-reprinted from the Ottawa Citizen

Entered Date: 
4 Jun 2013
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