A two-week spring break is hard to argue with when you’re a kid. With twice the number of free days and few worries, it seems like a dream come true.
But their parents are telling a different story, as the extra time means either missing an extra week of work, or shelling out double the amount on child care costs.
One mother of two told Global News it costs her family $200 a week, per child, to enroll them in camps during the break, which sometimes happens if she’s unable to get the time off from work.
“It’s not bad as long as my co-workers and I can work it out, because we can’t all be off at the same time,” she said. “I think two weeks is a bit long, especially if we have to go to camps.”
The two-week break has become the norm in most of B.C.’s larger school districts, including Vancouver, which made the switch in 2010 to cover its own financial restrictions.
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Former Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said the district was able to save roughly $100,000 a day that would have gone to hiring substitutes during the second week.
“In a budget that is almost half a billion dollars a year, there’s a savings of around $500,000 savings from having that extra spring break week,” she said.
“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s something. And in a budget where you’re scraping around trying to find savings, it means five, six, seven fewer layoffs of teacher psychologists, or keeping 10 support workers, so it does make a difference.”
But business advocates say asking store owners to distribute more time off to a small stable of employees is a burden on both sides of the employer-employee divide.
“As it stands now it’s very difficult for smaller employers to find ways to manage those full two weeks and ensure they have enough people to make their operations go and be successful,” Richard Truscott with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said.
Truscott said he hopes some flexibility could be added to make things easier for employers, even suggesting the idea of school divisions staggering the breaks — anything that could bring relief to smaller businesses.
“It may be easier for a big employer with 100 people or 500 people to make sure they’ve got enough people in place to cover things” for a two-week break, he said.
“But for a smaller employer, a three-person shop or an eight-person shop, that’s very difficult to accommodate.”
Bacchus said there was extensive consultation behind Vancouver’s decision, which found that absenteeism among both students and staff dropped with longer breaks.
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But she admits that the costs saved by the board have likely been passed on to the parents through child care expenses, and that not all kids will be so lucky to get the attention of their parents or early childhood educators during the extended time, potentially leading to further disadvantages.
“The kids who have families who can spend time with them and take them to cultural events or go travelling can actually benefit, even academically, from the breaks,” Bacchus said.
“But kids who are left on their own, perhaps just playing video games, are certainly going to fall behind.”
When asked about the potential for shortening the spring break back to one week, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said the decision is up to the individual school districts, but added that he’s willing to listen to concerns.
“If there is a view that is united, and that is calling on the province to co-ordinate with school districts, we’ll take it from there, but I’ve received no such proposal to date,” he said.