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Wellington Kindergarten Association’s Amanda Coulston with parent Wehi Mareikura and his sons, Martin Mareikura and Romson Fryer.

Taitoko Kindergarten has been transformed from a centre on the verge of closure into a thriving community hub, with nine registered teachers delivering quality education to largely Māori and Pacific Island children, while successfully engaging parents.

Teachers and parents describe the ECE cuts as devastating, with the potential to roll back all they have achieved.

Head teacher Caryll Resink says when she started at Taitoko it was like a “forgotten centre”, a two-teacher kindergarten on the wrong side of town where no one wanted to send their children.
Determined to turn the centre around, in 2006 the kindergarten successfully applied to the Parent Support and Development pilot, which gave Taitoko an extra $60,000 for the next three years. When the National government failed to renew this funding, the Wellington Kindergarten Association stepped in to cover the shortfall.

“One of the first things we did was employ another teacher to free me up to go out into the community to network with everyone from the council and library to Supergrans and public health agencies, inviting them to the centre.”

Weekly coffee mornings started for parents with guest speakers – a dietician, dental therapist, the new entrant teacher from the next door school, the Mayor. Then parents started asking questions about their children’s health, behaviour and learning, and parent education started happening, driven by what the parents wanted and always underpinned by the curriculum, says Caryll.

Fit and healthy weeks

“We have fit and healthy fun weeks, budgeting advice, cooking classes, sewing bees. Agencies like Breast Screen Aotearoa and midwives use the centre to deliver their services. We bought cameras so we can send home laminated photos of the children.”

The buildings have been extended and upgraded, and in May a new Pepe Centre for under-twos was opened.

Tongan, Māori and Samoan helpers are employed to come in several mornings a week to work with the Pacific Island and Māori children who make up 90 percent of the roll, and their parents.

“We have worked really hard to make this a warm and welcoming place where 60 parents and their children want to come, and parents are supported in their children’s learning. We were devastated when we heard about the latest cuts. It’s going to mean huge changes to the income stream and we can see there are going to have to be some radical changes.”

Family pride

Caryll is concerned the Kindergarten Association will have to look at how they allocate their budget, and individual communities might have to fundraise to cover shortfalls.

“This is already a struggling community where families don’t have extra money to put into the centre and not everyone has the skills to go looking for funding streams.

“It has taken Taitoko four years to get to this point and we are passionate about continuing that on. We wouldn’t want to see it go backwards. There’s a tremendous amount of pride now from the families that attend. Their children have excellent learning habits, they attend regularly and get a wonderful start for school.”

‘Screwed’

Caryll Resink says parents at Taitoko Kindergarten couldn’t afford any fee increase, they just wouldn’t come. Currently not many families pay fees, children either fall under the 20-hours-a-week˜free’ umbrella or WINZ pays the difference.

A group of mothers attending the weekly coffee morning agreed they’d be “screwed” if fees went up. They were also gobsmacked at the government’s contention that 80 percent of registered teachers for early childhood education centres is adequate.

“That’s like saying you don’t need a qualified mechanic to fix your car,” exclaims Debra, mother of a nine-month-old son who was referred to Taitoko by Birthright and has found it a great support.
Kirstie, another mother, says before she came to Taitoko she wasn’t involved at all in her four children’s education. “Taitoko has made me feel part of it every step of the way. We learn together and my parenting skills have got so much better.”

“There’s the whole thing about the fence at the top of the cliff,” says Caryll Resink. “If you put money into the ECE level you are not going to have to be spending it 10-15 years down the track. We’ve got empowered parents, children and community and we don’t want that undone.”

Crazy policy

Wellington Kindergarten Association General Manager Amanda Coulston says the projected loss in income will force it to make hard decisions around what costs are passed on to families and what costs the Association subsumes within it operations.

“But our Board remains unequivocal in our policy of employing 100% qualified teachers. We are advocates for children. We believe that all children deserve the very best.”

She says Associations nationally are exploring a number of options. “We don’t want to increase our fees because we believe that will impact on participation. We are looking at whether we reduce the support we give to kindergartens, which will mean families and communities have to do more fund raising.

“Currently each of our member centres receive an operating allocation which ensures everyone is equitably resourced. In the past they relied on donations for equipment and resources and paying some bills. Some centres were able to raise $30,000 a year and others only $2000. We have supported the more struggling kindergartens but that support may have to be reduced.”

She thinks associations will introduce a smorgasbord of options – cutting back in a variety of areas rather than focusing on one area. But while the funding cuts are a “real pain”, Amanda says the most profound thing is saying that 80 per cent of qualified teachers is adequate.

“We will continue lobbying government to reverse this crazy policy. It is hugely detrimental to children and will have a profound impact on outcomes for children as they move forward in education. We’re appalled by the government’s short sightedness – they will pay for it down the track.”

Key points

  • From February 2011, funding rates for services with 80-100 percent registered teachers are reduced.
  • $295 million has been cut over the next four years as a result.
  • The cuts affect the 2000 services and 93,000 children currently on the higher rates. But more services had invested in training staff and were expecting to move up in February.
  • The government says in a highly competitive sector, it expects centres to absorb costs, raise fees, or shed qualified teachers.
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Photograph: Robert Kitchin/Dominion Post. L-R: Niki Alefosio,holding Darius Alefosio 1yr, Jane Wild holding Cameron Wild 1yr, Max Wild 3yrs (front left), and Riley Alefosio 4yrs (front right). Early childhood education at First Five Inc (creche) in Porirua.

Fee hikes

Parents at the First Five Community Childhood Centre in Porirua are facing a $40 to $50 a week fee increase for every child enrolled at the centre full-time as a result of the budget announcement, says Treasurer David Conwell.

All the centre’s teachers are registered in line with its policy of providing the highest quality education to its 30-plus children. That’s unlikely to change, continues David, who calculates the cuts will mean a $20,000 funding shortfall next year, which he says will double to $40,000 once rising costs are taken into account.

“The government thinks centres can wear the cost” but organisations like this are running just to meet costs, not for profit. We have told parents about the fee increase now so they have time to make some hard decisions.”