Par­ents feel obliged to pay ex­tras

Just how op­tional are ‘op­tional’ charges in early child­hood cen­tres across the Queen­stown Lakes and Cen­tral Otago district. Reporter Aimee Wil­son finds out. FAST FACTS

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS -

Par­ents of chil­dren at­tend­ing early child­hood cen­tres in Wanaka and Queen­stown are be­ing asked to pay ‘op­tional’ fees along­side the Govern­ment’s 20 hours free early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion scheme.

The prob­lem is, some be­lieve they don’t have a choice and feel ob­li­gated to pay.

Mean­while, those liv­ing in Cromwell, Alexan­dra, Roxburgh and Ran­furly don’t have to pay any­thing for their three to fiveyear-olds.

In Queen­stown op­tional charges are as high as $4.50 an hour, and although the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion states pay­ment can­not be en­forced, there is lit­tle to stop cen­tres ‘‘ver­bally’’ ask­ing par­ents to con­trib­ute.

The Govern­ment in­tro­duced the 20 hours early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion (ECE) scheme in 2007.

Ef­fec­tively it meant all chil­dren aged three and over could have 20 hours’ free ECE, but in 2011 cen­tres were al­lowed to start charg­ing op­tional fees.

At Montes­sori Chil­dren’s House Wanaka, par­ents are charged $2/hr op­tional fees and if a par­ent chose not to pay, they had to ex­plain it to the board.

Chair­man An­drew Howard said the pol­icy was the board must be in­formed ‘‘and we then work with the par­ent in­volved to re­in­force the im­por­tance of this small charge for run­ning our cen­tre, and to see if there is a way we can reach an agree­ment for pay­ing.’’

Queen­stown Montes­sori charges an op­tional fee of $4.50, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, but the own­ers didn’t want to com­ment when con­tacted.

Wanaka Preschool wiped its op­tional charge at the start of the year when the per­cent­age of par­ents pay­ing dropped from 95 per cent to just 80 per cent.

How­ever, the cen­tre still charges $12/day for chil­dren over three (with a two-day min­i­mum).

‘‘We did away with the op­tional charge be­cause it was not a form of in­come we could bud­get on, and we felt it was un­fair that some fam­i­lies were pay­ing while oth­ers were not,’’ man­ager Lo Scurr said.

Ms Scurr said she went to a work­shop with an ad­min­is­tra­tor from a Queen­stown cen­tre who did not know the ‘‘op­tional’’ charge was op­tional.

‘‘She told me the care­givers must pay it.’’

The same was told to the Mir­ror from two par­ents whose chil­dren at­tend early child­hood cen­tres in Wanaka.

Staff at one cen­tre told the mother when she en­rolled her two kids, the op­tional fee was not op­tional as ‘‘we need the money’’.

When these claims were put to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, deputy sec­re­tary Rawiri Bell said par­ents had to be in­formed at en­rol­ment the op­tional charges were not com­pul­sory.

‘‘And they must not be pe­nalised for choos­ing not to pay. They can­not be a con­di­tion of ini­tial or con­tin­ued en­rol­ment,’’ she said.

Zigzag Zoo Queen­stown op­er­a­tions man­ager Fran Mac­Na­mara said a lot of cen­tres could not op­er­ate with the cur­rent level of fund­ing from the Govern­ment through the ECE scheme.

‘‘We are ex­pected, and au­dited by the Ed­u­ca­tion Re­view Of­fice, to pro­vide, a top qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme for all our chil­dren. This can be dif­fi­cult at times with­out ad­e­quate in­come,’’ she said. Her cen­tre’s op­tional charge of $6.20/day was paid by 80 per cent of par­ents, and used for an ex­tra teacher to run a ‘key skills’ pro­gramme for four-year-olds.

Mr Howard said in par­tic­u­lar cen­tres that of­fered more highly qual­i­fied staff than Govern­ment funded min­i­mums re­quired, would find it ‘‘very dif­fi­cult’’ to op­er­ate with cur­rent fund­ing.

‘‘We are a not-for-profit, char­i­ta­ble trust and work hard to fundraise and ac­cess grants to sup­ple­ment our in­come,’’ he said.

Only two of the 10 child­care cen­tres in Cen­tral Otago has an op­tional charge, and the op­er­a­tor – Kidi­corp - says there is no pres­sure on par­ents to pay it.

Kidi­corp owns First Steps Matau and First Steps Cen­ten­nial, based in Alexan­dra, where the op­tional charge of $1/hr was in­tro­duced in Fe­bru­ary, af­ter tak­ing over the busi­ness from Crayons Kin­der­garten.

Cen­tre man­ager Gayle Taucher said no par­ents were cur­rently pay­ing it.

Cen­tral Otago Kin­der­garten As­so­ci­a­tion (COKA) – which runs eight kindys across Queen­stown lakes and Cen­tral Otago, also in­tro­duced 50 cents per half day op­tional charge last year.

COKA has kindys in Alexan­dra (2), Cromwell, Hawea, Queen­stown, Frank­ton, Wakatipu and Man­iototo.

A let­ter to par­ents last year stated that be­cause the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion no longer funded kinder­gartens for 100 per cent qual­i­fied teach­ers, it had ‘‘se­ri­ously im­pacted’’ on the or­gan­i­sa­tion by re­duc­ing its an­nual in­come by 20 per cent.

Photo: AIMEE WIL­SON

Charg­ing par­ents: Pre-school­ers en­joy govern­ment-funded early ed­u­ca­tion but should their par­ents be con­tribut­ing to the cost?

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