By Alison Taylor
In an effort to cope with substantial funding cuts, the Whistler Children’s Centre is making changes to its programs, hours and fees.
“I think we were definitely going down that path (to make changes) but I think that with the budget cuts it just sped up the process because we really had to look at how we were operating,” said the centre’s acting director, Kari Gaudet.
“We’re looking at having a balanced budget that also allows us to pay down most of the deficit that we incurred in previous years.”
The changes come in the wake of the municipality stepping in to rescue the centre with $78,000 in emergency funding over the next 12 months.
One program, called Whiskey Jacks, offered at the Spring Creek location for three to five year olds, will be cut altogether. The children will be moved to other age appropriate programs, either at Spring Creek or at the Nesters location.
Gaudet said though families were shocked to learn the program was cancelled, the parents were accommodating.
The centre will also cut back on its hours of operation by half an hour. Instead of running from 7:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., the centre will open at 8 a.m. and close at 5:30 p.m.
“We tried it,” explained Gaudet of the extended hours. “For various reasons it’s just not working.
“Just by keeping our programs open that extra half hour it was definitely difficult on staffing levels and the cost to keep the centre operating that much longer… it had its effects for sure.”
The $10 member fee for joining the centre will also be upped to $25 but parent volunteer hours will be eliminated. Gaudet explained keeping track of the volunteer hours was time consuming for staff to monitor.
A fee increase is also on the horizon but Gaudet was reticent to go into details because the centre’s board of directors has not approved any fee changes yet.
“We are still working on changing our fee structure,” she said.
That could include charging the same amount for toddler programs as infant programs.
Parent Vicki Swan said the changes in hours will affect her family. Her four and a half year old daughter Katie attends the Spring Creek centre two days per week. The 8 a.m. opening now means her husband will be delayed getting to work.
She also believes the fee increases could have an impact on some families in the valley who are already struggling.
“I think there’s probably some parents who are already feeling the pinch and another pinch is going to be really difficult,” said Swan.
The non-profit organization has had an operating deficit for the past two years. The total deficit has not been made public.
This year the federal government cancelled the 2005 Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, representing a loss of $455 million over the next three years in B.C.
Instead, parents will receive $100 per child per month through a Universal Child Benefit.
And though the municipality has helped for the time being, Gaudet knows the centre will most likely need other long term funding sources.
“It buys us time,” she said of the $78,000 grant. “We’re doing these things which will definitely help but I believe we are still going to have to source our other funding options.”
The changes at the centre will come into effect in June. Gaudet hopes the board will make a decision on the fee structure by the beginning of May to give parents one month’s notice before the changes come into effect. The Whiskey Jacks program at Spring Creek may take additional time as staff sort out where the children are going in the weeks to come.