A special amendment to the School Act made the Kamloops-Thompson school board chairwoman a little nervous this week.
The provincial amendment stipulates that school boards must now make district property available to licensed daycares when not in use for academic or extra curricular purposes.
That’s not so worrisome since the board does that already. What was concerning was part of a phrase in the amendment summary stating the policy would “maximize the availability of affordable child care in schools.”
Board chair Denise Harper wondered why school-based daycares would be more affordable than other similar businesses since it isn’t undercutting typical lease rates.
That is unless the province expects the space to now be offered for free. And that notion triggered a certain amount of fretting.
The school district currently leases out two former elementary schools to daycare centres, George Hilliard and Ralph Bell, which would otherwise be closed. The buildings’ use incurs maintenance costs.
“We don’t have excess funds for maintaining of a building,” said Harper. “Should (free usage) be the expectation, our question would be who will absorb the cost?”
School boards were not informed directly of the new policy and Harper was unable to get answers on Thursday.
In a media scrum outside the legislature on Wednesday, Education Minister Don McRae simply said the amendment aims to “get some more schools to uptake this.” Out of 1,600 B.C. schools, as many as 800 already provide space to daycares, he said.
Late in the day on Thursday, a ministry spokesperson told The Daily News that boards may charge for cost recovery only but may not attempt to make it a profitable venture.
He said the policy does not apply to agreements already in place but does apply to new or renewed leases.
Other than the question of cost, providing daycare space in unused district property has tremendous benefits for a child’s adaptability to new surroundings, said Harper.
“It’s making kids familiar and more comfortable with schools,” she said. “That’s always been our objective, to get the little guys ready to go and feeling like they belong there.”