Child-care price increases upset

A Dunedin couple are upset over proposed price increases for a new University of Otago child-care centre opening next year.

The $6.25 million new centre, in Castle St, is set to replace a Great King St facility in April next year. The Otago University Childcare Association (OUCA) showed parents a proposed new pricing structure last week.

A copy of the proposed pricing obtained by the Otago Daily Times shows increases of up to 417% in the ''short day'' part of the centre, open from 8.30am-3.30pm.

The largest increases are for children who use the facility for fewer days.

One three-day option increases from $18 a week this year to $75 a week in 2015.

Both prices include the 20 hours' government subsidy.

A transitional arrangement, with smaller price increases, is proposed to be introduced when the new centre opens in April next year until 2015.

A couple with a child at the centre, who wished to remain anonymous, said the proposed new price structure discriminated against students and part-time staff, who could least afford increases, and offered no flexibility.

They were considering removing their child from the centre, but were left in a difficult position because of the short notice.

The couple felt the reason behind the changes was the amount of rent the university was charging OUCA for the facility, on which the university had spent too much.

OUCA president Natalie Harfoot said the association was beginning consultation with parents about the proposed prices and no decisions had been made.

However, fees would need to increase because of changes in government funding and rental costs for the new buildings.

''We are currently in negotiation with the university about the cost of rent.

''Also, we have proposed to move to a session-based system to maximise government funding,'' she said.

The association did not believe the facilities were more expensive than they needed to be. University of Otago chief operating officer John Patrick said the OUCA set the price for child care independently of the university.

''The university has agreed the annual rental with OUCA, although some adjustment will be negotiated to allow for their part-year use in 2014.

''The child-care facilities were designed in consultation with OUCA to satisfy their particular requirements,'' Mr Patrick said.

Otago Uni, please help us to put the children first

I feel very sad about the changes to the OUSA fees structure and about the effects that this may have on the children currently at the centre and their families. Young children form bonds with their teachers and the other children that they play alongside, and it would be very difficult for a family whose child is already settled but is faced with huge fee increases to choose between coming up with the extra money for the new fees (an increase of as much as $63 each week) or moving their child.

The fee increases and the change in booking structure come as a result of changes in government funding and from the new requirement from the University that the OUCA pay rent (it previously occupied University buildings rent free).  There is little that can be done about early childhood education funding before the next election, but it may be possible for the University to show some flexibility and moral leadership here to help out these student and staff members of the University community.

The very large fee increases apply to just a small number of the families whose children attend part-time. It may therefore be possible for the University to provide the OUCA with a grant to subsidise fees for these families over the next four or five years, the amount of the grant diminishing each year as the children turn five and move on.

Such a grant would ensure that the overall student body will remain stable despite the other changes that the children will face, with the move to a new location, new teachers, and new whanau groups. This would be of benefit to both families most affected by the changes and deciding whether they can afford to remain with the OUCA, and for families who are less financially affected, as their children’s friends will move to the new centre with them and those valuable developing bonds will remain intact.


A fair scheme for all parents

As a parent of a child at OUCA, I attended the meeting where the new structure was announced, and it was clear that significant work has been done by the Committee and staff to create a fair pricing structure and ensure viability of the centre. 

The increase in fees, as was clearly explained on the night, is only partly due to rent rises. Maximising available funding is a key component of the change. As a single income family we also face a similar dollar value increase for our child. Obviously the less you were paying to start with, the greater the percentage rise.

The alternative is that full-time parents could subsidise part-time families so they that can pick and choose their hours to their convenience. If 2 days a week is all that is required for some parents then perhaps a home-based arrangement or similar may be more appropriate.

I feel that any frustration should be directed at the Government and the lack of importance they place on working families, rather than the hard-working OUCA staff and Committee volunteers. I pay my fees knowing that my child will attend a fantastic new facility with attentive staff and caring staff. 

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