Budget sparks hot words over Waiheke childcare

01:00, Jun 02 2010
childcare
CHILDCARE SHORTAGE: Waiheke Community Childcare Centre Ute Hoffmann says there are not enough spaces to fill demand.

Two of the island's main childcare centres are speaking out about budget cuts they say will limit opportunities for Waiheke youngsters.

Government announced in its budget last week it will only fund Early Childhood Education (ECE) services to provide 80 percent of registered teachers.

It plans to spend the cash that is saved on helping people living in deprived areas or circumstances get early education for their children too.

Until now, centres have been encouraged to ensure as many of their teachers as possible are registered ones and they have been funded for all of them.

The new ruling, which comes into effect next February, will see centres currently funded for between 80 percent and 100 percent of registered teachers only receiving funding for 80 percent of them.

It means they will either have to lay off qualified staff or make up the cash shortfall by charging parents more.

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Waiheke Community Childcare Centre senior teacher Ute Hoffmann says changes to help lower socio-economic areas and increase eligibility for 20 free hours funding for services such as Kohanga Reo and the Playcentre are good.

But she warns that Waiheke Community Childcare Centre will be dramatically affected by the new rules over funding registered teachers, as they make up more than 80 percent of its staff.

It means the centre will see a six percent decrease in its funding.

Ms Hoffmann says the centre is committed to quality care, being a good employer, and providing a not-for-profit community service.

She says it has not raised fees in more than year because of the recession but the budget cuts mean centre staff will have to fundraise and think of ways to cover wages.

"But even though it will hurt our pockets, we will not let it hurt our children."

Ms Hoffman says the island continues to suffer a shortage of early childhood care and there are not enough spaces to fulfil demand.

She says more parents are after places because of the last government's introduction of 20 free hours and because more people are having to find quality care for their children so they can work.

"As a result we have had a massive waitlist and in fact we closed it over a year ago."

Beginnings Early Learning Centre manager Sheryl Dale says more than 80 percent of her staff are registered teachers and agrees with Ms Hoffman about the impacts of funding shortfalls.

She says fees may have to go up or wage rises put on hold as the centre struggles to cope with a potential estimated loss of around a quarter of its funding next year.

"The cuts have got massive consequences. It could mean fewer resources, more costs for parents, and no wage increases. And if a staff member leaves, they won't be replaced by qualified people. It's crushing."

Like Ms Hoffmann, she says the island lacks enough licensed facilities to meet demand and waiting lists are long.

She says 38 families use the centre, which is licensed for a daily intake of 38 children, but there were many who could not get places for their children. There is a waiting list of more than six months.

And she says the cuts would not encourage anyone to set up any new centres.

"It's terrible and an example of backward thinking. John Key is not welcome on Waiheke as far as I am concerned."

Fossil Bay Kindergarten centre manager Prashanti Vos thinks most of the changes are good.

Her main concern is about a review of the Provisional Registered Teacher grant also announced in the budget. She says its loss could affect professional development in Steiner education at the centre.

She is happy, though, with the news that the 20 free hours funding is being extended to five-year olds, that primary teachers are now eligible for ECE funding, and that NZQA will be expanding recognition of some overseas ECE qualifications.

"We are very happy that the 20 hours ECE programme will be extended to 5-year olds from July 1.

"It will mean they can stay with us until they are six when, we believe, they will be more emotionally prepared for the school environment.

"This is an initiative we have been waiting to see for some time."

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