Friday, 1 Mar 2024

Kinder surprise: 1000 kids in limbo as council pulls plug on kinder services

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Key points

  • Knox City Council is pulling out of providing kindergartens in a move that will impact 120 staff and 1100 children.
  • It will stop running kindergarten services from January 2025 and will seek expressions of interest for alternative providers.
  • Mornington Peninsula Shire is also assessing its provision of kindergartens as a result of the government’s free kinder program. 

Knox City Council is pulling the plug on its kindergarten services, leaving 120 workers and 1100 three- and four-year-olds in limbo, due to what it says is a funding shortfall.

The council in Melbourne’s outer east will stop running its kindergartens from January 2025 and seek alternate operators, including those in the private sector, to take over.

Knox City Council will stop running standalone kindergarten services in a move expected to impact 1100 children.

Knox City Council Mayor Marcia Timmers-Leitch said the Andrews government’s free and expanded kinder policy was a factor in the council’s decision to shut its services as “funding has not kept up with the cost” of providing kindergarten services.

“There are big changes coming for kindergarten as part of the state government’s decision to increase hours, make kindergarten free and offer a second year of kindergarten before school,” she said. “Independent providers can be more agile and flexible in the way they plan, adapt and deliver their services when kindergarten is their core business.”

Timmers-Leitch said Knox would make its buildings available to other sessional kindergarten operators from January 2025 and would continue providing sessional kindergarten at the Knox Children and Family Centres in Bayswater and Wantirna.

“Funding has not kept up with the cost of providing many of the services we provide on behalf of state and federal governments,” she said. “Council has an important role to play in planning and supporting services for our youngest residents and their families, and the best way to do this is not always by being a direct service provider.”

Knox City Council includes the suburbs of Ferntree Gully, Boronia, Bayswater, Wantirna, Scoresby, The Basin, Lysterfield and Rowville.

Vanessa Roy’s three-year-old daughter is enrolled to start kindergarten at the council-run West Gully kindergarten next year.

“I am absolutely devastated,” she said. “Long day care does not suit me or my child or my family. The waiting list to get into long day care is huge and I would be paying more money than council-run kinder.”

Roy said she was concerned her daughter would not be able to attend kindergarten in the area near where they live, as well as about the quality of care provided.

“These are sessional kinder teachers with the qualifications, experiences and resources to help teach our children,” she said.

Roy said she was also concerned about what will happen if private operators are not able to take over running the kindergartens by next year.

Meredith Pearce, Victorian branch president of the Australian Education Union, condemned the council, which she said was walking away from the provision of essential kinder services despite overwhelming community demand.

She said the decisions was a “significant blow to local families and children and the teachers and educators that educate and support them”.

“This shows a complete lack of respect for the staff, families and the local community and our members who work for City of Knox are deeply despondent today.”

Pearce said the council was not elected with a mandate to withdraw from providing kindergarten services.

Mornington Peninsula Shire, which provides 28 sessional kindergarten services, is also assessing its kindergarten operations as a result of the government’s free kinder program.

A spokesman for the council said its kindergarten facilities needed $53.6 million in upgrades, and with an annual capital works budget of $50 million, Mornington Peninsula Shire could not fund this itself.

Mayor Steve Holland said the council was obligated to allocate funds in its budget equitably to benefit the whole community including facilities for seniors, sporting groups and community groups.

“Right now, the future of some local kindergartens is in jeopardy due to the impact of an expanded kindergarten program and lack of appropriate funding,” he said.

Kindergarten enrolments in Knox for 2024 will not be impacted.

The state government has been contacted for comment.

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