AEU critical of City of Knox decision to no longer offer council-run Kinder services
The Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian Branch has condemned the City of Knox for walking away from the provision of essential kindergarten services, despite what it terms “the overwhelming wishes of the local community”.
A decision was reached by Knox City Council earlier this week, with the Council formally announcing yesterday that it will stop running standalone kindergarten services and will make its buildings available to other sessional kindergarten providers from January 2025.
Independent providers more flexible, Council claims
“There are kindergarten providers already operating in Knox and surrounding areas who are better equipped to grow and adapt their services than Council,” said City of Knox Mayor Marcia-Timmers Leitch, adding that Council will work in partnership with the Department of Education on an expression of interest process to seek alternate providers.
“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 continued.
“Independent providers can be more agile and flexible in the way they plan, adapt and deliver their services when kindergarten is their core business.”
AEU Branch President Meredith Peace expressed her “profound disappointment” over the decision, which she says will leave 120 employees with no job security and impact the early learning of approximately 1,100 three- and four-year-olds.
“Despite the overwhelming support for Knox to remain a provider of kindergarten, demonstrated throughout the consultation process, the work of the community advisory group, feedback from staff and families and the AEU petition of over 2,500 people, councillors voted against the wishes of the community,” she said.
“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.”
Scale is an issue, Council contends
The City of Knox is one of the “very few” Councils left in Melbourne who directly provide kindergarten services at the same scale, the Mayor countered, saying “the ongoing changes to this sector affect us more than other councils”.
“Council delivers more than 100 services to our community. We need to balance kindergarten services against every other service to determine the best way to deliver value for our whole community.
“This makes it much more difficult to adapt to changing policy environments and government reforms, especially when funding has not kept up with the cost of providing many of the services we provide on behalf of state and federal governments.”
Significant questions to answer: AEU
Ms Peace believes the Council has significant questions to answer in relation to the decision, with one of the major questions being around the decision to lease council facilities to other providers “when their own review states they are not fit for purpose”.
“(The decision) does not stack up,” she continued, “particularly when significant funding for infrastructure improvements is available through state government infrastructure grants.”
The Council will continue to offer sessional kindergarten services at the Knox Children and Family Centres in Bayswater and Wantirna.
“This will set a benchmark for the quality of kindergarten available in Knox,” the Mayor said. “This was identified by a representative community panel as an important lever for Council to ensure the ongoing quality of services in Knox.”
A public expression of interest process will be conducted to identify alternative providers of sessional kindergarten in Knox.
The decision will not come into effect until January 2025. Council-run kindergartens will continue to operate in 2024, offering 15 hours a week for three- and four-year-olds.
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