Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Planning for change

Full Day Early Learning is on the way and will likely have an impact on your centre. Many aspects of your centre's operations will be affected; finances are only one aspect and perhaps not the most significant. Identifying challenges well in advance increases the likelihood of developing effective strategies to address and resolve them. It is important to evaluate how your centre will be affected by introduction of full day kindergarten; failure to identify future problems today could be devastating tomorrow.

We contacted Sue Hunter, of Hunter Consultants ( for advice on a process to identify potential challenges to your program and then chart a course of action to react positively to those changes.

Step 1 – Understand your existing operation
As with any journey, you need to have a good idea where you are now before you can plot a new course. The first step is to review your existing services. Begin by identifying:
  • the age groups your centre services
  • demand for care in your area, including the depth of your waiting list (Determine if the families on your waiting list are still interested - some centres have very long lists but when they go to fill empty spaces, the people on the list have long since made other arrangements)
  • the location of your centre or centres relative to local schools
  • the number of different elementary schools attended by the children in your centre
  • percentages of full fee and subsidized parents
  • your physical plant – how easily could rooms be converted to serve other age groups?
  • whether your space is at risk. For example, is your space likely to be taken over by a school for full day early learning or for Board of Education delivered before- and after-school care?
  • Retention of staff (e.g. are they likely to accept an offer of employment from a Board of Education?)
  • The size of your financial cushion which has a direct impact on the degree of financial flexibility the centre has to revamp and reorganize the services provided.

Step 2 – Critique your existing operation
Self analysis is never easy. You might consider getting outside help with this process. It need not be a complicated undertaking but must be done well as it provides the foundation for the rest of the process. Questions to answer include:

  • What are your centre's strengths? For example, do you currently provide infant and/or toddler care?
  • As importantly, what are its weaknesses? Is your physical plant in need of a significant upgrade?
  • What threats are your centre facing in both the short- and long-terms? Is your centre very highly subsidized? If you are located in the City of Toronto, is the centre located in a Ward that is currently above the equity ceiling for subsidy allocation? The cut in Best Start funding will reduce eligibility to subsidy even for eligible families. Enrolment could be adversely affected whether or not your centre is immediately affected by the implementation of full day early learning.
  • What opportunities does your centre have for change and growth in both the short- and long-terms? What are the neighborhood demographics?
Step 3 – Analyze the possible financial impact of losing the four-and five-year olds
See the January 24 posting on this blog for a discussion of the possible financial implications of closing down your care program for four-and five-year olds. The posting includes a method of calculation that can be used to determine the reduction in contribution to overhead from closing a playroom.

Step 4 – Exploring options
The next step, exploring a range of possible options to increase the long-term viability of your centre, is based on the information gathered in steps 1 through 3. As you explore your options consider:
  • legislative requirements
  • financial impact
  • physical space requirements
  • staffing implications
  • governance

Following are possible options, some of which may be relevant in your situation and some of which may not. Creativity with a touch of practicality is the key ingredient in this phase. Consider:

  1. increasing the number of younger children in care. Take in to account:
    • Capital costs required to create the space
    • Demand for care of younger children in your area in the foreseeable future
    • Demand for and availability of fee subsidies in your area
    • Staffing availability
  2. can you register as a school to offer the kindergarten syllabus and before- and after- school care?
  3. adding a fee-for-service nursery school program
  4. downsizing, provided you can cover your overhead costs
  5. amalgamating/merging with another centre or community program
  6. providing emergency care
  7. delivering the Ministry of Education Kindergarten Program in your centre with better staff to child ratios than the Boards of Education are able to provide.
Step 5 – Moving forward
Once you have decided on a course of action it is time to move into implementation mode. This phase can be easier because you have a course of action to follow. It can be more as you might be managing a significant project on top of running the day-to-day operations at your centre. Thoughtful planning is essential to make sure you accomplish your objectives.

Embarking on a possible change of direction can be intimidating and a lot of work. However, knowing that change is needed well in advance of the event occurring is always less stressful than finding out at the last minute.

Bon Chance!

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