Unloading city-run daycares, seniors’ homes could be a challenge

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TheStar.com – parentcentral.ca/parent/education/childcare/daycare
July 13, 2011 .   Laurie Monsebraaten  and Alysha Hasham

The thought of acquiring some or all of Toronto’s 55 municipally run child-care centres gives Peter Frampton pause.

The chief executive officer for the Learning Enrichment Foundation, which runs 17 non-profit daycares in the city’s northwest end, is struggling to keep his centres open as 4- and 5-year-olds move into full-day kindergarten.

He can’t imagine taking on more centres when the entire child care system is in financial crisis.

“The city should be focusing on stabilizing the child care system during this time of great turmoil, instead of unloading centres,” said Frampton, whose agency provides child care for about 750 kids from birth to age 12.

All daycares in the city face a funding crunch as they lose the fees for 4- and 5-year-olds that help offset the higher cost of serving younger children. By 2012, about half of daycares will be affected. By 2014, full-day kindergarten will be offered in every Ontario school.

City consultants KPMG have suggested the city unload its child-care centres to help bridge a $774 million budget shortfall next year.

Of 932 centres in Toronto, only 55 are run by the city. A 2008 report found the city-run centres provide better service than those run by non-profits or businesses. But they are also “considerably more expensive,” KPMG found.

Even if Frampton’s agency was financially able to pick up the city centres, higher unionized wages in those daycares would be a challenge. He said his staff is not unionized and receives “considerably less” than the $27 to $35 per hour paid by the city.

“Pretty soon the rest of my staff would want to be paid the same,” he said, adding his agency couldn’t afford it.

Lee-Anne Arkell, president of Peekaboo Child Care Centres, a chain of 26 centres in Peel, Halton and York regions, said she would be interested in Toronto’s daycares if for-profit operators were able to serve children with fee subsidies.

“The wages (in the city-run centres) are incredibly high compared to some of the regions we are in,” said Arkell who pays her staff $13 to $15 an hour.

“But if daily fees are proportionately high and there is some way to generate an income out of it, then absolutely.”

Jane Mercer of the Toronto Coalition for Better Child Care cringed at the thought of businesses operating municipal daycares.

“The problem is that the profits will come out of the care our kids should be receiving,” she said.

Wednesday’s KPMG report also suggested the city should transfer nine of its 10 long-term care homes to non-profits or sell to private companies.

But non-profit operators say the loss of the city homes would be tough on seniors.

“Toronto is the largest urban centre in Canada and has worked hard to serve residents,” said Debbie Humphreys of the Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes & Services for Seniors.

The city-run homes “fulfill specific needs in the community and (other operators) are not going to have that connection to the community,” she added.

But if the city was forced to lose some of its homes, Humphreys said she hoped they would be picked up by the non-profit sector.

A recent study showed for-profit care is “more likely to produce inferior outcomes,” she noted. “In the end, ownership matters.”

Since municipally run homes pay staff about 20 per cent more than private facilities, companies won’t likely be interested in buying, said an industry insider.

However, they would likely be very interested in managing the homes for the city and reduce costs through layoffs and by renegotiating food, maintenance and other service contracts, the insider said.

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