by Colin Smith
Morinville News Correspondent
Increasing enrolment at Morinville Public School is forcing the closure of the daycare program located at the school, leaving many families without many options for their children’s care.
School Principal Wayne Rufiange met with representatives of McCauley Out of School Care on Apr. 29 to inform them that space in the school would no longer be available.
Rufiange said the program’s lease expires at the end of June but efforts are being made to extending its occupancy until the end of July.
The non-profit program currently accommodates 37 children aged from 4½ years to 12.
“The decision not to renew the lease for McCauley Out of School Care was not an easy one to make,” said Rufiange. “Morinville Public School has had a very good working relationship with McCauley and having them rent space in our building was an asset.”
The principal said the decision was made after a series of building operations and program planning meetings began in the fall of 2015, when capital planning documents, including requests for modular classrooms, needed to be submitted to Alberta Education.
In January, when Rufiange forwarded 2016-2017 student enrolment projections to the division office, he believed there would be enough classrooms to meet the requirements of the students.
He became increasingly concerned about that in the course of monitoring registrations in February, March and April and discussing class sizes and student program needs with his administration needs. Rufiange also discussed the issue with the Superintendent and Associate Superintendent of Sturgeon School Division. He is expecting 130-150 more students.
Ultimately he said that space is needed to accommodate student population growth and let McCauley Out of School Care know that the lease would not be renewed.
Loss of the space will probably mean the end of this McCauley Out of School Care program and unmet childcare needs for many of the 28 families now using it, according to Supervisor Meghan Nesbit.
She added that doesn’t include another 20 families that are on the waiting list for September.
“There’s just nowhere else,” said Nesbit, who explained that program costs were subsidized for parents. McCauley has another program at Notre Dame School, but that is full.
“There are a few families where people might have to quit their jobs because of having no childcare.”
The search for an alternative to the school space the program has been renting for about the past six years has been unsuccessful, she said. They have looked at possibilities including churches and vacant commercial premises.
Nesbit said the program needs space to accommodate 32 children at a time and have an outdoor area for them to play in.
“There’s only so much we can afford,” she said. “The absolute maximum is $1,200 a month. One building owner wanted $25 per square foot, which is not in any way possible.”
Some of the building owners were not interested in renting because children are involved.
One possible option for staying at Morinville Public School also seems impractical, Nesbit said.
“The principal of the school offered to work with us on a location if we purchased an ATCO trailer. But if we purchased it we’d still have the costs of hooking up electricity and plumbing.”
The province’s Family and Community Social Services agency has been approached about the child care problem, but with no satisfaction.
“One person was told that it was not their job and they were busy dealing with the Fort McMurray fire evacuation,” Nesbit said. Town of Morinville officials have also been contacted
“I do have parents advocating and doing everything they can. We’re doing everything we can possibly do.”
Nesbit’s own seven-year-old daughter who attends the daycare might be able to stay with her grandmother. But, she points out, “There are other families who don’t have anything.”
Virginia Valenzuela is one of those without any backup.
Valenzuela moved to Morinville from St. Paul two years ago to study Social Work at Norquest. A single mother, she’s an immigrant from Mexico and her family are all there.
She upset that closure of the program at Morinville Public School will leave her and others without affordable childcare and that the problem isn’t being taken seriously.
“I’m really frustrated because it seems like government doesn’t care,” Valenzuela said. “They just seem to think it’s your problem. They need to listen to us.”
She feels that the Town of Morinville has a responsibility to ensure that affordable childcare is available.
“The Town should invest in daycare,” she said. “They have to provide something.”
Valenzuela is concerned that her five-year-old daughter will be psychologically affected if she doesn’t get a chance to mix with her peers.
She is also concerned about providing for her child. “I have to continue my education. Is it better for me to stop working and go on welfare?”
“We and the others feel very frustrated. This is oppressing the most vulnerable ones.”