AEU members, local families and community members have been campaigning to persuade Knox Council to keep operating its kindergartens – not cut and run. Disappointingly, Knox Council moved to vote on this proposal on 14 August, earlier than expected – to remain the provider of two early childhood hubs and cease being the provider for an additional 20-plus kindergartens – rather than provide appropriate time for local constituents to be properly heard on the matter. This is both short-sighted and a significant blow to AEU members and local children and their families.
The AEU built on the petition action and meetings that had already occurred, with paid social media advertising that targeted Knox councillors and community as well as speaking to local families and concerned community members.
Our petition was presented to councillors by an AEU delegation of early childhood teachers and educators, along with AEU deputy president Justin Mullaly. Despite gathering more than 2,500 signatures, Knox Council failed to listen to the heartfelt pleas of AEU members, families, and the local community.
We know that children benefit from local kindergarten services that reflect the context and make-up of the local community. Families rightly expect their local council to provide kindergarten programs.
Despite gathering more than 2,500 signatures, Knox Council failed to listen to the heartfelt pleas of AEU members, families, and the local community.
Why should the children of Knox miss out? Not a single member of City of Knox Council was elected with a mandate to withdraw from kindergarten provision.
There are more than 1,100 children in Knox who rely on their local government for free, high quality, play-based early learning in the two years before school, provided by qualified and experienced early childhood teachers and educators. There are also 120 teachers and educators facing uncertainty about their jobs, with no apparent plan in place by Knox Council to ensure there is another provider ready to step in.
Knox Council seems to have forgotten that local governments exist to provide local services for the communities they represent, including kindergarten, and that fee-free kindergarten is funded by the state government.
The proposal to lease council facilities to other early childhood providers is disingenuous when Knox’s own review states the need for significant infrastructure upgrades as a major argument for not continuing to provide these programs. Given that funding is available through state government infrastructure grants, this argument does not stack up, and looks like a list of convenient excuses for a decision that was predetermined.
AEU members have been treated poorly, with Knox Council’s decision to issue redundancy estimates to staff before the decision was even made by the council. This shows a complete lack of respect for staff, children and families.
The AEU will continue to work with members and the state government as decisions are made about the future provision of kindergarten programs for the Knox community, including supporting members transition to any new employer(s). AEU early childhood members at Knox are to be congratulated for their efforts in standing up against this change, supported by their fellow AEU members across the EC sector and the broader AEU membership.