(Strawberry Vale Co-Op Preschool / Facebook)

Earlier this week, several news reports stated that decades old community staple, Strawberry Vale Preschool, may be closing its doors after the Greater Victoria School District introduced a new license agreement that increases their rent.

The preschool business is owned by a non-profit co op group and has been cared for by preschool families and community members for the last 70 years.

The Greater Victoria School District’s new license rate will increase the property’s rent by 182% in July 2018, and a further 54% next year.

And this price increase is deemed unfair in more ways than one.

Not just about the money

Victoria Buzz spoke to Gail Atkins (teacher at Strawberry Vale Preschool for the past 12 years) who went to the school herself in the 1960s and was able to shed some light on the gravity of the situation.

In 1994, the Little Red School House that houses Strawberry Vale Preschool was donated to the Greater Victoria School District by the District of Saanich, and a letter from SD61 confirms that the building was to be “dedicated to pre-school use permanently”.

(Greater Victoria School District 61’s letter to Strawberry Vale Preschool in 1994)

Originally, the rent on the property was $0, but it was gradually raised to its current rate of $230/month to “recover costs”. The school district contends that they cannot keep subsidizing out-of-school care due to increased demand for space, as a justification for the new rent increase in the license agreement.

However staff members maintain that SVP does not cost the district any money at all since SD61 has not conducted any maintenance, or repairs at the preschool since 2000 – even then the repairs were paid for by a provincial grant.

Cared for by the community

The costs of maintenance, janitorial, and yard work at the Little Red School House have been covered by fundraising initiatives taken on by parents and members of the preschool community.

“In the last 17 years our preschool families have fundraised and attained grants totalling about $70,000 to care for the building,” says Atkins.

“They [the school district] haven’t been to inspect our building for at least the last 12 years despite being asked to have our roof assessed. We don’t want to be on a two year waiting list and fall into disrepair like other schools, especially because we have to meet provincial licensing requirements in order to operate.”

Moreover, the school district does not list Strawberry Vale Preschool in their Long Term Facility Plan that keeps a tally of what maintenance needs to be done for buildings and properties that they own over the next 15-20 years. This further shows that at this time, they have no documented future plans to assist the school in any financial way.

But the new license agreement includes another clause that poses a bigger threat to the school.

This could shut down the preschool

The license mandates which children we can enrol and when, and has a 60 day eviction notice clause.

This threat of being possibly evicted with 60 days notice would make them unable to operate, as children are enrolled on a yearly basis.

Staff and parent volunteers are currently petitioning the Ministry of Education to reverse the agreement and make the school district draw up new license terms.

How you can help

“We are hoping that people will support us by emailing, tweeting, facebooking, etc the Trustees of SD61, the Minister of Education, the Education Critics, and any other politician who might be able to help us,” states SVP Vice President Angie Hentze.

“The main thing that we want is for the conversation not to just be about the money. The point is that this building really does belong to the community that’s been taking care of it for almost 70 years, and we want to make sure this preschool is available as a preschool for the next 70 years as well.”

We have reached out to the Greater Victoria School District multiple times for comment but have received no response.

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