We have written an open letter to express our concerns around the proposed closure of 10 not-for-profit Early Childhood Education centres owned and operated by Auckland Council, known collectively as Kauri Kids. You can read the full letter below.
Open letter to Auckland Council
To Mayor Wayne Brown, and Auckland Councillors,
We write to express our concerns around the proposed closure of 10 not-for-profit Early Childhood Education centres owned and operated by Auckland Council, known collectively as Kauri Kids.
We do not think that the evidence supports closing Kauri Kids centres, from a financial or social perspective, and strongly suggest that this proposal is rescinded before it reaches the council table for a vote.
The staff at Kauri Kids provide an invaluable service to the tamariki enrolled at these centres, their whānau, and their wider communities. This is evidenced in the overwhelming concern expressed by these communities when the announcement on the possible closure of the centres was made last year. We have concerns that the council is considering the closure of Kauri Kids ECE centres without adequate financial information, and without an adequate exploration of alternatives.
Community-based Early Childhood Education is rare in Auckland, and the provision of low-cost, high quality ECE that caters for all children – including those with high needs which can’t be met at many for-profit centres - is an important community service. Shutting these centres will have real consequences for the whānau and tamariki who depend on them.
As well as our concern about what this will mean for users of the service, we have serious questions about the basis on which this proposal is being made. The proposal cites the 2021/2022 financial year alone, which does not constitute adequate information to assess the financial viability of Kauri Kids ECE centres. The 2021/2022 financial year was disrupted by the spread of Covid-19 in the community which strongly impacted ECE participation. This was felt across the ECE sector, and many otherwise successful services suffered losses.
Moreover, even in this fairly exceptional time period, the losses quoted by council are marginal and, we believe, could be recovered with small changes to services operational and fees structures.
We consider this approach to be an obvious and sensible alternative to closing the centres, especially when considering the negative social and economic impact this will have on the communities associated with Kauri Kids. The merits of this alternative approach are reinforced by imminent changes to the ECE funding system that will benefit centres like Kauri Kids who lead the way on decent pay and working conditions for staff.
Given the potential to make up this shortfall, and the stated goal of this proposal being to save money, we’re additionally concerned that the council has not given adequate attention to the costs associated with implementing the proposed closures.
These costs severely undermine any argument for savings in the 2023/2024 financial year. Kauri Kids ECE centres are highly unionised and as such staff enjoy strong redundancy clauses in their collective agreement. Given the long tenure of many staff at Kauri Kids, we estimate redundancy costs could be in the vicinity of $1m. This will far outweigh any projected savings from the closure, and be another cost inflicted on ratepayers. We do not consider this to be a positive outcome, and don’t think that you will either.
Taking the above into account, we have concerns that this decision is being pursued in a hurried and reckless manner that does not reflect the responsibilities of decision makers outlined in the Local Government Act (2002).
We encourage you to read our submission in full, which elaborates on many of these details, and to rescind the proposal to close these centres, or vote it down should it reach that point. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this further.
Korimako Tangiata/National Secretary
NZEI Te Riu Roa