Childcare spaces at risk at two local community centres

B.C. Supreme Court ruling leaves school district scrambling to accomodate smaller class sizes.

Local community centres that operate childcare services on school grounds are afraid some of those spaces will be put in jeapordy at the start of the new school year.

Currently, there are three community centres that have agreements with the school district to offer childcare spaces in multipurpose rooms, portables or classrooms in nearby schools.

The Oaklands Community Association is one of those centres. It offers out-of-school care for 99 children from five years to roughly 11 years old at three locations: two rooms at the community centre, one multipurpose room at the adjoining Oaklands Elementary School, which the community centre rents from the school, and at the Oaklands Chapels down the road both before and after school.

It’s been a one-stop shop for parents to drop their kids off at school and pick them up after work, but that could change next year, due to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The ruling said that a law imposed by the province that blocked teachers’ ability from bargaining class sizes was unconstitutional, after the province imposed the legislation that blocked discussions on issues like class size in 2002. The ruling means smaller class sizes for the upcoming school year for kindergarten to Grade 12, leaving the school district searching for space to accomodate students in certain schools. For example, if there are 85 children in a kindergarten class, instead of having four classes, there would be five.

The ruling also limits the number of students with learning disabilities in a class. However it is the issue of class sizes that could prevent community centres from offering child care.

“Because of the B.C. Supreme Court decision, the schools are trying to accomodate the smaller class sizes. Here’s where they’re looking to spaces they have previously rented to us, they’re looking at removing those spaces,” said Traci Fontana-Wegelin, executive director of the Oaklands Community Association, adding if the school were to terminate their agreement, 15 childcare spots, which are currently being accomodated in the school’s multi-purpose room, would be lost in the 2017/18 school year.

“I don’t have the space, the school doesn’t have the space. We’re hoping we can continue to work and will do our best to work collaboratively with Oaklands school and the school district. Ultimately, we’re all serving the space people, which are the parents.”

It’s a problem the Fairfield Gonzales Association is also facing. The association offers 175 out-of-school care spaces for kids ages 5 to 12 in a classroom and gym at Margaret Jenkins and Sir James Douglas elementary schools.

“Its a big crisis and the big problem is we don’t have the physical space to offer any more programming,” said Kristina Wilcox, co-executive director of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association, adding there are challenges sharing space with the school. “It can be problematic if you’re sharing a classroom. That’s a teacher’s space, they need it for certain purposes and we need it for certain purposes and sometimes they don’t match.”

Mark Walsh, secretary treasuer with the Greater Victoria School District, said it has been a challenge for teachers to share space with childcare providers, especially teachers of younger grades where preparation is required both before school and after.

The district is still in discussions with both Oaklands, James Bay, and Fairfield Gonzales community centres about continuing to share space in the upcoming school year. Walsh believes there are some spaces, such as music or multipurpose rooms, that could theoretically be shared.

“For many years both sides have shared space together. There’s a history of positive partnership and working together and that’s what we hope to continue,” said Walsh, noting he anticipates there will be portables added to both Oaklands and Margaret Jenkins, which childcare providers could potentially use as well.

kendra.wong@vicnews.com