Impact of Eungai Preschool changes would be a disaster for families

WHOLE COMMUNITY AFFECTED: Entire families would be in turmoil should the preschool have to reduce its hours
WHOLE COMMUNITY AFFECTED: Entire families would be in turmoil should the preschool have to reduce its hours

A looming funding crisis at Eungai Preschool has raised fears of reduced days and therefore reduced access to essential programs for children in the community.

And right at a time when the school's popularity has soared and numbers are higher than ever.

Preschool director Anna Veres said the problem had arisen in trying to offer flexibility to families and a fresh approach to educational inclusiveness with a vibrant bush program, yoga and language classes.

Related: Here's a taste of 'bush school' -

"We have worked so hard to serve the needs of our community and consequently there has been an increase in enrolments of 89 per cent since the Department of Education's August census period," Anna said.

"However with that has come a huge increase in our expenses and our cash flow has been severely affected.

"We need funding to get us through until the next census period, which is when our numbers will be properly reflected and our funding needs met."

She said the Department, via Sector Support consultants, had been telling her to drop back from four to three days a week, however this would severely affect the local community.

"We know how to run on a shoestring but if one family is affected here, then everyone is affected. We have not been paid properly for 2017 and 2018 - we either need back payment or a stop gap of $80,000 to tide us over."

The Guardian News spoke to a number of parents, who were clearly distressed at the prospect of the cuts.

Melissa Atherton is a single mother studying for two degrees and about to undertake a placement.

"This would be a disaster for me - I have nearly finished my studies and am looking to start work but I need someone to look after my child four days a week in order to do that," Melissa said.

Rachel Johnson pointed out the difficulties of finding alternative care: "There is a preschool at Stuarts Point but that is a two hour round trip (daily) and there is day care at Macksville, however what we have here is not on offer anywhere else.

Sarah Robinson said the quality of the education at Eungai was such that parents were bringing their children from Scots Head, Nambucca Heads and even Clybucca.

"This is unique and the children are thriving," Sarah said.

This would be a disaster for me - I have nearly finished my studies and am looking to start work but I need someone to look after my child four days a week

Melissa Atherton, single parent

In brief, a reduction of days would see families split up and travelling longer distances to find care, see parents unable to continue to work or study, while others might choose to leave the area altogether.

The Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey and Minster for Early Education, Sarah Mitchell, visited the preschool just prior to the election, promising to look into the back pay issue.

However now the political picture has shifted and questions from the Guardian were redirected to the NSW Department of Education.

A spokesman said the department had reviewed funding paid to Eungai preschool and confirmed that all funding and funding adjustments made to date through the Start Strong program reflected enrolment data provided through the August census.

"Following concerns raised by Eungai preschool in relation to their funding allocation, the department provided sector support ... which aims to support business and service sustainability of early childhood education services, and optimise outcomes for children and the community, and is delivered by an external early childhood peak body.

"Eungai Preschool is currently participating in the Sector Support program to identify how they can align their service delivery with Start Strong and meet the needs of the local community."

He said the Department would continue to work with the preschool and consider appropriate funding arrangements, in line with the Sector Support program.

Distressed parents have taken the matter up with the Mayor Rhonda Hoban  and also the candidate of Cowper Rob Oakeshott.

Cr Hoban said the demand for the service was clearly there and important to the families.

"I will do whatever possible to lobby for interim funds  to get them to a point of financial sustainability," she said.

Mr Oakeshott said if there was an error in assessing Eungai Preschool's funding, it needed to be rectified urgently.

"Or if there is another explanation for a vital community service suffering because they believe they are owed what is - in terms of the State budget - a pittance, then those answers need to be provided quickly," Mr Oakeshott said.

"The outcome of this will affect, by extension, the whole tightly-knit community of Eungai ... the Eungai funding problem needs to be fixed."

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