Sunday, May 26, 2024

Kauri Kids Howick receives four-month lifeline to keep operating

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A group of local parents were concerned Kauri Kids Howick could be sold or shut down. Times file photo Chris Harrowell

Agreement has been reached for the Kauri Kids Howick early childhood centre to stay in operation until September 30 while negotiations continue with third-party providers to take over the service.

The Howick Local Board voted at a recent business meeting to continue the centre’s operation until later this year.

Board chairperson Damian Light says staff and relevant stakeholders will be kept updated.

“Last year, the board agreed to fund the additional operational costs of Kauri Kids Howick to ensure continuity of service until June 30, 2024, to find a new provider for this service.

“In our meeting, it was agreed to extend the deadline until September 30 while we continue negotiations with third-party providers to take over the service and ensure continuity of service.

“We believe the extra effort is worthwhile to protect this beloved community service and to continue to provide continuity of service for the tamariki, families and staff.”

In June last year Auckland Council’s governing body confirmed funding to the programme would be cut in its annual budget adoption, leaving the local boards involved to decide whether they would try to support it from their own already-reduced budgets.

In December, 2022, the Times reported about the efforts of local parents to keep Kauri Kids Howick open and operating and their worry that it could be shut or sold.

The council had publicly released staff advice issued to mayor Wayne Brown relating to the council’s 2023-2024 draft annual budget.

Brown wants to significantly cut council spending and has talked publicly of selling assets if necessary.

A section of the advice document referred to the Kauri Kids chain of early childhood education centres (ECE).

It said the centres are at 10 sites in five local board areas across the city.

“For the financial year 2021/2022 the service operated at a loss of $200,000 before contribution to overhead and assumed rent costs, or an estimated total loss of around $1 million.

“It is proposed the council discontinues being a direct provider of this service and earns a commercial return from the premises.”

Options outlined in the document included the potential of selling the operations to another provider to take over on a commercial basis through to closure of a centre.

It said a decision regarding the centres would be made after appropriate engagement with the relevant local boards and affected customers, and consultation with council staff as to how and when to “discontinue direct provision of the service”.

“The primary opportunity is for council to reduce operating losses from this activity and earn a commercial return on the lease of the premises.”

At the time some of the many local parents who have children at Kauri Kids Howick expressed their concern with the situation.

Among them was Alric Wright, whose son Bodhi attended the centre.

“It’s obviously a big impact on the family having to move their kids if it does shut down,” he said.

“Most daycares in the area are short-staffed and they also have long wait times.

“With some of them it is six to nine months before you can get your child in, so if this shuts within a month or two we [the families] may not have anywhere to send the kids.”

Wright said he didn’t know what he’d do if Kauri Kids Howick was to close.

“It’s pretty disappointing seeing no one’s been consulted beforehand and it’s come out of the blue.

“The price certainly adds up and this is definitely an affordable option.”

Fellow parent Gen Walden had two children at the centre.

She said it was “massive news” to hear it may be sold or shut.

“It really threw us off. The teachers who we’ve been with for years, it’s really unfair for them as well as us.

“What do we do? It’s happened so fast without any consultation or anything like that.

“It feels like we really don’t have a say. I think the savings don’t outweigh the impact on us as individuals as well as the whole of the whanau here.”

  • Disclosure: Howick Local Board deputy chairperson Bo Burns is the owner of the Times.

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