By Lanie Tindale
Marrickville residents are protesting the Inner West council’s recommendation to close down the May Murray Early Learning Centre.
Marrickville resident Annabel Prince’s two year old son Oliver is enrolled at May Murray.
“On Friday night I received an odd email from Council,” said Ms. Prince.
The email contained a link leading to the council agenda for the next Council meeting. “Buried within that agenda I discovered that as Globe Wilkins Preschool needs a new location, the Council’s recommended solution is to close down May Murray [and] move our children to the new larger Steele Park Centre.”
Council staff had prepared a report to address the costs of Council-run early childhood centres in Marrickville.
There was no public consultation offered by Council staff on the recommendation they presented to the Council meeting on June 26.
Father of 5-year old May Murray student Henry, Gerard Corboz, said he felt “that our children are not being considered as individuals but just a number on the Council’s financial ledger.”
At the same meeting the report was handed down, a motion was passed to defer the recommendations “for further consideration by Council.”
The NSW Department of Education advised that they would end the Council’s license to the premise of Globe Wilkin’s Preschool in 2019.
Council staff estimated the cost of purchasing a premise to relocate the preschool as “between $3.5M and $5M,” and that overheads for running the centres was “projected to be an additional $1.248M for 2018/2019.”
In order to address the additional cost issues, the Council report considered four options before deciding to “relocate Globe Preschool places to the May Murray premises, move the May Murray places to the new centre at Steel Park and provide a Before & After School Care outside the Preschool hours.”
Two education and care services, Leichhardt Park and Steele Park, were planned by Marrickville Council before the councils merger. Both centres are yet to start operating.
Leichhardt Children’s Centre, with 30 children aged between 0-5, would be relocated to Leichhardt Park.
A change.org petition opposing the closure of May Murray already has 754 signatures.
Ms Prince said that she chose May Murray, which charges $121 a day, for the close relationships between staff and children. “It’s incredibly intimate. It’s got 24 places for two to five year olds, and all the children interact together in the one space.
Steel Park “is expected to be licensed for 60 places,” said a council spokesperson. They said that after the 24 children at May Murray are relocated to Steel Park, there will be 36 additional long-day care child care places in Marrickville.
However, Ms Prince claims that as May Murray only has a capacity of 24 children, the council will lose 26 preschool spots, meaning the overall increase in child care spaces will only be 10.
If the Leichhardt Park service takes on the 30 children at the Leichhardt Children’s Centre, this will reduce the number of additional child care spots in Leichhardt to 30.
With all centres remaining in operation, the additional Steel Park and Leichhardt Park centres would provide an additional 120 child care spots.
Ms Prince expressed concern that “increased demand” for childcare places in Marrickville means that there will not be enough child care services “to meet the current rate of population growth and development.”
The Steel Park Centre cost $5 million, and Ms Prince said that it’s establishment was “simply to meet the demand [for child care places] on the council’s list, not even to meet the future demand.”
A council spokesperson said that “demand [for council childcare places] has generally reduced across the childcare sector in the Inner West due to the opening of a large number of private child care providers.”
Inner West Labor councillors Anna York and Sam Iskandar presented a motion to defer the report to a later date at the June 26 council meeting.
Councillor Iskandar spoke of his own experience of the centre, which his children attended. “It played a very important role.
“The centre itself wasn’t that big, and the communication between the parents and the teachers … helped a lot in developing a strategy [for] how to deal with non-English speaking background kids.”
Cr York said that “there are a number of issues that we are trying to deal with simultaneously in a single recommendation,” and that further consideration of the issues was needed.
The motion passed stated that the council would ask the Department of Education NSW to allow Globe Wilkins to continue to use the current premises, or ask the Department to offer an alternative location.
The Council will also seek “further advice” on the overhead costs of running the centres, and there will be more public consultation.
Councillor Julie Passas, who voted against the motion to defer the recommendation, said: “It is not a requirement for councillors to deliver child care services,” and that the cost of running child care services “cannot be sustained”.