By Bonny Burrows
Supporters of Kinders Together have launched a heated campaign calling for Cardinia Shire Council to reinstate its early year’s management tender to the local organisation after it missed out on renewing its contracts in controversial circumstances.
The Gazette, other media and the council have been inundated with hundreds of calls, emails and messages of anger following the shire’s 3 July announcement that it had awarded Western Australia-based childcare provider One Tree and Glen Waverly organisation Best Chance with five-year licences to operate the shire’s kindergartens over Kinders Together.
As of 2018, Best Chance will operate 15 local kindergartens, One Tree has been awarded the contract for three and a third provider, ECMS, will also operate one kindergarten which has yet to be built.
The decision has angered some parents and staff members of the 19 centres currently operated by the Garfield-based Kinders Together (KT) who feel that the council failed to consult the community during the process and believe KT should have retained its contracts.
They say the local organisation was blindsided by the tender process and was not informed it would have to reapply for its contracts until early this year.
However, the council said it met with KT’s CEO and staff in 2014 to discuss its future during which a three-year contract, which was due to expire in December 2017, was signed.
“At the time of issuing the licences, it was agreed that an open expression of interest process would take place in early to mid-2017 to issue licences beyond 2017,” the council said in an online statement.
“This process was undertaken to ensure that children and families continue to have access to high quality, inclusive services that are responsive to their needs, both now and into the future.
“It also ensured that the very best providers in Australia had an opportunity to express their interest in delivering high-quality services for families in Cardinia Shire.”
But the signing of One Tree has left some parents sick to their stomach after news surfaced that the organisation was last year subject to disciplinary action at the Western Australia state tribunal following an incident in which a staff member at one of its centres was found not to have adequately cared for a child.
“I genuinely feel so ill about this,” one parent said this week.
“I feel sick to the core with worry about my children and other people’s children. If council knew about this then they have a lot of explaining to do because this is not acceptable.”
Cardinia Shire Council CEO Garry McQuillan said this information was readily shared with the council and the organisation had been assured that such an incident would not occur again.
“Through the EOI process, all applicants declared relevant incidences to the management of early childhood services and facilities,” Mr McQuillan said.
“This included the declaration by One Tree Community Services of an incident that occurred at one of its centres in Western Australia in 2016.
“This was the first incident in 43 years of operating and was a result of a break-in at the centre the night prior.”
Parents who have joined together to form the Keep Our Kinders Together campaign are outraged they were not consulted on a process which directly impacted on their children’s future and are devastated that what they said was the council’s “neglect” could place their children “at risk”.
Adding “insult” to the matter was that 2018 kindergarten offers were sent out to parents just days after the announcement of the successful applicants of the tender.
The shire was slammed in a social media post on 10 July announcing the first round of kinder offers, with parents questioning how they can accept without knowing the staff, curriculum or fees.
“How can we make an informed decision when we have no information? We can’t possibly know which kinder will suit our kids’ best needs with no information about any of them,” one parent commented.
Mr McQuillan said the council was confident it had made the best decision through a fair process.
“It was clear the successful applicants provided superior responses throughout the EOI process, which included both their written submissions and subsequent formal interviews,” the CEO said.
“Through this process council wanted to not only attract kindergarten program providers that could provide high quality education and care services, but that would also exceed expectations by offering additional secondary services to add value and meet the varied needs of children, parents, carers and educators of Cardinia Shire.”
Gembrook MP Brad Battin, who met with about 40 parents on Monday night to discuss their concerns, called for the shire to halt its “flawed” process.
“The Shire of Cardinia has failed to consult with parents about the future of their children’s education. This … could impact on outcomes for children and will result in lost jobs in Cardinia,” Mr Battin said.
“Cardinia Shire Council must stop this process, not sign any new contracts and speak to the passionate mums and dads who deserve to be heard.”
Kinders Together CEO Roger Chao met with the Gazette to discuss the matter but refused to speak publicly.