Parents sharpen pencils; identify savings for Coronation Park

When Melissa Hewitt heard Lambton County was considering closing Sarnia’s Coronation Park Day Nursery she decided to try and help save it.

The nursery was short $1.3 million last year following provincial funding cuts. The county covered the loss with transitional funding, but this year’s deficit is projected at $1.1 million.

Hewitt, who has two children in after-school programs, got together with a couple of other parents and got to work finding real cost savings.

Last week the tax manager presented county council with four options, from reducing wages by $400,000 through retirements, to increasing revenue by running summer camp programs for 9-to-12-year-olds. Hewitt and her parent group had even found a host for the program – St. Luke’s United Church.

But the most interesting proposal she presented was a break-even budget. It added the summer programs, slightly increased parent fees, a small reduction in wages, closed the day care for a summer break, and changed the ratio of early childhood educators to children to reduce staffing.

“I wanted to give you a picture of what possibilities could be generated before a decision is made,” Hewitt told the politicians.

It wouldn’t take a long, exhaustive study to find the savings, she added.

“It only took us 21 days to prepare this… if (management) were given the opportunity to work on it, they could accomplish it.”

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley made an impassioned plea to keep the daycare open one year while examining priorities.

“I think we have to have a bigger debate of the value of this service to the region,” he said.

Sarnia City/County Councillor Jim Foubister agreed. “It is a needed service within this county. They have proven that over all the years it has been offered,” he said.

“If we listen closely to Ms Hewitt’s small group with significant ideas of how it can be done, it is our duty to carry it forward and research that … I believe it can be done because it should be done.”

County council delayed a decision until after the provincial election hoping the next government will change the formula for childcare.

–  Heather Wright, publisher and editor of The Independent in Petrolia