Regulatory changes under the Education Act and the Child Care and Early Years Act, and the Ministry of Education’s announcement of the availability of funding for the construction of child care spaces, have resulted in the potential for school boards to receive funding to build and equip space for the operation by accredited third parties of child care centres for children up to 4 years of age. Although the operation of child care centres on school property is not new, the levels of responsibility and involvement of school boards in connection with those operations has increased. As a result, school boards may want to revisit some of their strategies and approaches to the operation of child care centres on school property.
Procedure and process
There is a degree of complexity to the regulatory framework surrounding the operation of child care centres within schools and there are a number of different options available to school boards in tailoring their own particular solutions. There are also institutional efficiencies to be gained by memorializing the details of those solutions in board policies, procedures and guidelines, as appropriate. In many cases, existing policies and procedures may address some, but not all, of the issues underlying the child care centre initiatives. A review of existing policies, procedures and guidelines will help identify whether amendments or new documentation are required. Regardless, it is important that as processes and solutions are identified, they are captured and recorded so that boards, and the child care operators they deal with, have a clear road map. Clarity will also achieve efficiencies and ensure consistent treatment of operators.
Does BPS apply?
One question often asked when a board is selecting a child care centre operator is whether the Broader Public Sector Directive applies? After all, isn’t that board “acquiring” a service? In the author’s view, when the operator’s fees for child care are paid directly by parents and no fees are paid or are payable by the board to the operator, the BPS Directive does not apply. The BPS Directive applies when a school board itself uses public funds to acquire goods or services and this is not typically the case with the operation of child care centres in schools. That said, there are certain underlying principles embedded in the BPS Directive (and its included Supply Chain Code of Ethics), that boards may want to reflect on when arriving at their child care solutions.
Selecting an operator
While the BPS Directive may not apply to a board’s selection of an operator, boards will want to be seen to be dealing with operators on a fair and transparent basis. One approach to achieving this objective is through the development and circulation to interested operators of a “solicitation” document which: explains the board’s objectives; solicits information the board has determined it needs or wants to review; and, explains the process by which the board will choose the operators it will have operate its child care centres.
Borrowing from procurement practices, boards might want to consider including sections in their “solicitation” document which address:
- the possibility for information sessions;
- the rules for and format of submissions;
- timing and pacing requirements;
- how questions are to be submitted and how they will be responded to;
- disclosing the highlights of any particular board policies, procedures or rules which operators will be required to adhere to should they be chosen to operate a child care centre;
- how the board will deal with the requirements of Regulation 521/01 under the Education Act with respect to criminal background checks; and
- whether, after the evaluation and selection of operator(s), a debriefing will be provided.
Although the accreditation and oversight of child care operators and child care operations is undertaken by the Ministry of Education, operators selected to provide child care on school property will be leasing dedicated space from school boards and those school boards have certain overarching responsibilities in respect of their students and their properties which still need to be considered. This is likely an opportune time for school boards to review the precedents they use for the leases they enter into with operators.
In reviewing forms of lease agreements, boards will want to keep in mind their general duties regarding student safety, as well as the specific requirements of the Ministry’s new initiatives regarding the operation of child care centres.
A board of education’s lease agreement with an operator will likely be the main, and perhaps only, document between the board and that operator. For that reason, it is prudent to ensure that the lease agreement adequately addresses all of the issues and understandings between the parties. The best agreements provide clarity and certainty in respect of the parties’ understandings and help avoid confusion down the road.
While the provision of child care services within schools is not new, boards and operators are facing a new regulatory framework, Furthermore, the Ministry’s announcement of new child care funding will result in a greater number of child care centres being operated within schools. Memorializing solutions allows school boards to: share their vision and approach; ensure that valuable information is not lost; and, achieve efficiency and consistency.