THE future of some Mornington Peninsula kindergartens is uncertain because Mornington Peninsula Shire cannot afford extensions needed to accommodate state government reforms.
“We are committed to continue our long-standing partnership with the state government through planning for the needs of children and families in our municipality, but we cannot fund these necessary upgrades or continue to maintain these facilities on our own,” the mayor Cr Steve Holland said.
“We are obligated to allocate funds in our budget equitably to benefit the whole community, including facilities for seniors, people experiencing vulnerability, young people, community groups, sporting groups and community support organisations.”
The council wants the state government to help it increase kindergarten opportunities for families, but Holland said, “the future of some local kindergartens is in jeopardy due to the impact of an expanded kindergarten program and lack of appropriate funding”.
Last year, the state government announced an expanded kindergarten reform with the introduction of “free kinder” and up to 30 hours a week of “pre-prep” for four year olds. The improved service was expected to give about 28,000 Victorians the ability to return to work if they wanted.
The reform, promoted as being the largest of its kind in the state’s history, redesigned the delivery of kindergarten programs to allow all Victorian children access to two years of kindergarten before formal schooling. Pre-prep would be introduced over the next decade.
Holland said there were 70 services providing paid for kindergarten programs across the peninsula, with early childhood education and kindergarten being the responsibility of the state government through the Department of Education.
Of these 70 services, 27 sessional kindergartens were based in shire-owned buildings. One centre was located on a primary school site and leased by the shire from the state government.
The 28 services had volunteer parent management committees, or an early years manager and the buildings were maintained by the shire.
In a news release that quoted the mayor, the shire said it was under no obligation to provide kindergarten infrastructure but had historically worked in partnership with the state government, early years managers and the individual management committees.
Over the past decade it had “invested” $7.2 million on its kindergarten buildings, but reforms were expected to put pressure on local governments.
Of the 28 shire-owned or maintained centres providing kindergarten programs, 25 were likely to need to change the way they operated or needed more money to pay for infrastructure. While some centres could be extended, many did not have enough space for and extra room and may have to be relocated.
These major upgrades were estimated to cost close to $53.6 million for “traditional builds”.
Holland said the shire had an annual capital works budget of $50 million and could not pay for the extensions.
The state government had promised $1.8 billion towards the rollout of the reform but this would not fully cover costs.
“We are in the process of working with the state government to determine what solutions and options are available, including progressing those projects and grant applications that were already underway prior to the recent announcements,” Holland said.