Infrastructure gap unaffordable, Casey Council says
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Casey Council calls the kindergarten infrastructure gap ‘financially unviable’

Casey Council calls the kindergarten infrastructure gap ‘financially unviable’

by Freya Lucas

May 07, 2024

Victoria’s Casey Council has raised concerns about the financial impact of the Victorian Government’s Best Start, Best Life reforms on local councils, calling for a new service model that would only build kindergarten infrastructure for population growth, not the full demand required under the Government’s Free Kinder reforms.


The concerns were raised during an April Council meeting as part of broader discussions using insights and information from a recent review of kindergarten services in Casey which examined the impact of the reforms, the demand from population growth, and the priorities of Casey’s current and future kindergarten families in response to the Best Start, Best Life reforms which outline an increase in hours for three and four-year-old kindergarten in the coming years.


By 2036, the review found, an additional 5800 kindergarten places would need to be provided by the early childhood sector, which is more than double the size of the council’s current offering.


The outcome recommended building infrastructure for population growth only. Demand modelling forecasts six new kindergartens with a total of 28 rooms, which would lead to a construction cost of $48.7 million.


Such an arrangement, the Council believes, would “reduce the risk to its financial sustainability,” noting that the Best Start, Best Life reforms would likely place Casey in the position of providing infrastructure “beyond council’s financial means” and result in the Council needing to “prioritise kindergarten infrastructure over other important community infrastructure”.


During the meeting Casey’s chair of administrators Noelene Duff PSM said the council would continue to deliver kindergarten services, however, there would be no increase in staffing levels.


“We will continue to offer services to our community in a way which is within our capacity,” she said.


“While we’ll keep doing what we’ve always done, and that’s offering high-quality kindergarten service delivery, we’ll also have to work with other providers in the sector.”


The new service model would also decrease the number of sites managed by the council in the coming years and procure new early years managers to deliver kindergarten services from sites it no longer manages.


“Council will package groupings of sites and run an Expression of Interest and alternative early year managers will deliver some of the kindergarten services, at various sites from 2026, to cater to the reforms and additional demand,” Ms Duff said.


As sites move to other providers all current kindergarten staff will retain their employment, and where necessary, will be relocated to remaining council kindergartens to enable council to provide the additional hours required at these sites.


“Council will work with the Department of Education to find another provider to operate the two kindergartens on school sites that we currently manage,” she said. 


“This process will commence as soon as practicable.”


“Given current workforce challenges and taking on the feedback from the market, a staged implementation of the new service model will be needed, to ensure the sector can respond appropriately. It is anticipated that this will take five or six years to fully implement this new service model.”


The Council’s priority, she continued, is to ensure all future Casey families can access high-quality and free kindergarten services in their local area, regardless of who is delivering the service.


“Council will continue to play a strong role in kindergarten service through service delivery (within our current staffing capacity), the provision of current and future growth infrastructure, and management of the Central Registration and Enrolment Service,” she said.


“We will also advocate strongly that the State Government, not-for-profit, and private sector also play their part in delivering this reform.”


Speaking with local news source Cranbourne News a Department of Education spokesperson said any further decisions regarding the future of Casey Council’s kindergartens should be made in consultation with the community – including the families who use and value the services the council provides.


“We will continue to work closely with the council as it considers its future role as a service provider,“ the spokesperson said.


“Victorian Government funding for council-run kinders in Victoria has increased significantly since 2022 – with Free Kinder delivering an average 30 per cent to 40 per cent increase in funding per child compared to average parent fees that were previously charged, on top of existing funding streams.”


Access the original coverage of this story here

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