School District 53 is defending its decision to allow Penticton and District Community Resources Society (PDCRS) to operate child care services in local schools.
After recent criticism expressed by former Osoyoos mayor Tom Shields, assistant superintendent of schools Jim Insley felt compelled to respond.
“Daycare is a real need for communities,” Insley said, noting the district is trying to accommodate parents by giving them more options.
But Shields said the infiltration of PDCRS in Oliver (at Tuc-el-Nuit school and the new high school) was done without due public process and has resulted in money being taken out of the community.
“Our small communities need every bloody bit of revenue they can get,” he told the Chronicle.
Shields said the federal government offered funds to fix up schools to house daycare centres, as there is room due to declining enrolment. He noted that School District 53 ushered in PDCRS at Tuc-el-Nuit for very little rent and no charge for heat or hydro.
“This makes it difficult for others to compete and some are saying they are forced to close their doors,” Shields said.
He said there are capable, licensed people in Oliver who could operate child care services at Tuc-el-Nuit school and keep the money local. But he claimed they were neither informed about the opportunity nor how to use these public funds.
“In the case of PDCRS coming into Osoyoos Elementary four years ago (to operate a preschool), they took over 30 kids from Osoyoos Day Care . . . the cost to Osoyoos was two jobs and lost revenue of approximately $100,000 per year,” Shields said.
Insley explained the district previously identified the need for more preschool spaces in the community and sent out a request for proposals in the local media to see if there were any local providers interested. None came forward, so the school district began discussing the idea with PDCRS.
“It’s been a really positive experience. Yes, it creates some competition, but that can be a healthy thing,” Insley said, noting he hasn’t heard any complaints about it.
Insley pointed out that PDCRS is fulfilling a need in the community, and the school has gained more students from Penticton because of the partnership.
Insley said he doesn’t believe this partnership has led to any private daycare centre in Oliver going out of business.
“PDCRS has been outstanding in working with the community and the school. The school has become more and more community oriented and that’s good.”
Insley did acknowledged that PDCRS does not pay for heat or hydro, but it does pay a rental fee.
But Shields maintained that PDCRS’s move into Tuc-el-Nuit school was not made public, and that Oliver is the real loser as it stands to lose millions of dollars.
“Mayor Ron (Hovanes) and council should not be asking . . . they should be demanding some answers.”
Hovanes said he has been told that a number of families have moved to Oliver because of the day care opportunities at Tuc-el-Nuit.
Shields admitted that his daughter works for Osoyoos Day Care and is expecting a tough time with the licencing officer from Interior Health because of his recent criticisms expressed in a Youtube video.
The video garnered several responses, including: “Since PDCRS opened their own daycare at Tuc-el-Nuit, more than one Oliver daycare has closed their doors after continual harassment from the new licencing officer.”
Another indidvidual stated, “Osoyoos is not the only place this is happening. Since this specific licensing officer has started to work for Interior Health, many daycares from Penticton to Osoyoos have closed because of harassment from her.”
A longtime daycare operator said she felt overwhelming pressure from the licensing officer, which prompted her to close her facility
“It was such a hassle,” said the operator, who did not want to use her name for fear of repercussions.
She said licensing officers have leeway to interpret the regulations to their suiting and can be harsher or more lenient, depending on their attitude towards a daycare provider.
In addition, she noted that operators have no recourse when licensing gives them a poor rating during an inspection.
“You’re not supposed to be a perfect, sterile facility; it’s impossible.”
Prior to this specific licensing officer, the woman always had satisfying and friendly interactions with licensing staff.
Gretchen Rondestvedt, manager of licensing and Information for Interior Health, said their first priority is to make sure that all licensed child care environments are safe and healthy.
“The fact that we find issues is not a surprise, rather it’s a reflection of the work our licensing officers do.”
Rondestvedt noted the majority of facilities out there do a good job in meeting provincial standards. She pointed out the legislation is applied consistently to all facilities, regardless of their ownership.
Family daycare operator Aimee Grice said her experience with the licensing officer has generally been positive. She admitted the inspection process can be invasive, but it’s done for the safety of the children.
Grice said she hasn’t seen any impact on her business with the introduction of PDCRS at Tuc-el-Nuit school.
Daycare operator Renata Hext said her experience with licensing has been very positive, noting the officer is very thorough.
“It’s keeping the children safe. Licensing is not out to persecute anyone.”
Hext said PDCRS provides a valuable service to the community by offering viable options for parents in need of daycare.
“It’s foolish not to have it in the school . . . this community needs more daycare options.”
Tanya Behardien, executive director of PDCRS, said she sees the partnership they have with the school district as very beneficial to the community.
“It’s a good utilization of space and helps support the school.”
She acknowledged that licensing rules are hard on everyone, and they should be because they deal with the most vulnerable segment of the population.