'Not democracy': Parents dispute kindergarten vote

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Dunedin's kindergartens appear set to stay with the national body after an extraordinary vote last night which followed weeks of bitter wrangling.

But parents and teachers are disputing the process, which they say was "unconstitutional".

New Zealand Kindergartens (NZK) says Dunedin’s kindergarten committees voted at an extraordinary meeting to remain affiliated with the national body.

Half of Dunedin’s 24 kindergartens had requested the emergency general meeting to vote on the decision. It was held on Zoom last night.

A total of two thirds (66%) of Dunedin committees would need to vote to split from NZK for that to happen.

NZK has not provided the split of votes.

Teachers and parents have been in uproar since they were told it had been decided the Dunedin Kindergarten Association (DK) would be governed by NZK in a one-year pilot.

An in-person meeting in April exploded into chaos as emotions and tempers boiled over at what was considered a decision that would exclude parents and teachers from having any say in running their kindergartens.

NZK and DK said the move was needed to ensure Dunedin’s kindergartens were meeting all of their legal obligations.

A committee president representing a group of unhappy teachers and parents said they were disappointed with the result, but not surprised, as 66% was a high bar.

‘‘We remain committed to supporting our teachers and ensuring that kindergartens in Dunedin are locally led, free and continue their amazing education of our tamariki.’’

A parent who was at the meeting, which was held on Zoom, said the meeting was ‘‘unconstitutionally restricted to the one thing [NZK] thought they could win’’.

He said 60% - ‘‘a clear majority’’ - of kindergartens voted to disaffiliate.

‘‘They restricted the agenda to the one thing they thought they could win. A fully legal request was made for wider agenda which has been just ignored. That was not democracy it was something else pretending to be.’’

‘‘They didn't announce the numbers of votes. They did this so that it is not clear that a majority voted to disaffiliate. Many people not 'in the know' will think vote was lost fair and square.’’

Another kindergarten committee president said half of Dunedin’s kindergarten committees had engaged Galloway Cook Allen lawyers to send a letter to the manager of DK.

The letter requesting that DK not to go ahead with a Zoom meeting, which DK’s constitution did not allow for.

The meeting was ‘‘quite inefficient’’ and did not allow for open or transparent discussion, she said.

‘‘They limited any talking to a two minute window and then muted the person at two minutes, regardless of if they had finished their train of thought / or were finished speaking.’’

It was a private ballot, but afterwards an open discussion among the committee presidents determined that 12 out of 20 committees who attended, voted to disaffiliate, she said.

They would have needed 14 to meet the 66% threshold, but it still showed DK was not acting in accordance with the desires of the "majority" of members, she said.

The meeting and the way it was run was part of an ongoing pattern of constitutional breaches by DK, she said.

A Dunedin parent who supported remaining with NZK said their main thought after the meeting was ‘‘relief at the outcome’’.

‘‘We are happy for the families and teachers that we don't have to face losing the board and heading into a massive period of uncertainty, but obviously conscious that the board has some serious work to do to listen to the kindergartens and bring members with them, and it needs to get a lot better at communication with everyone.’’

They said the reasons given for change ‘‘seemed to be more reactionary than reason-driven, based on rumours rather than considered discussion or a clear alternate plan’’.

A Dunedin mother opposed to staying with NZK said teachers were already asking committees ‘‘what could we do now?’’

‘‘They have lost faith in the board, especially with NZK involved.

‘‘I sit, disheartened, thinking about our teachers who will go into work tomorrow feeling the weight of this vote and feeling like they have no voice in any of this — because they don’t.

‘‘They will continue to put a smile on their faces and look after our tamariki and families to the very best of their ability; all whilst not knowing what the future holds for them or Dunedin Kindergartens as we know it now.’’

In an open letter sent by kindergarten teacher members of the union NZEI Te Riu Roato the DK and NZK boards yesterday, before the meeting, they shared their ‘‘disappointment and dismay’’ at the lack of voice of teachers throughout the process.

They asked for someone to immediately connect with them and support their wellbeing, and to share accurate information as their employers.

They said the process had left them feeling undervalued, stressed, and feared for what came next.

‘‘We can’t believe our employers would put our health, safety, and well-being at risk with minimal support to manage the risk.

‘‘Hopefully this can be put behind us rather than consuming further management time (and money), and kindergarten communities can come together to put their energies into improving what we have, and moving forwards in a positive direction, with the focus on what benefits the children short and long-term.’’

NZK chief executive Jill Bond told TVNZ this morning there was a need to do a new constitution following changes to the Charities Act and other regulatory and health and safety changes. There were also changes needed to make the organisation financially and environmentally sustainable.

Parents' fears they would lose their voice in how kindergartens were too soon, conversations needed to be had about how parents could be part of running kindergartens in ways that meet all of the obligations.

Asked about the challenges when working with voluntary boards, she said there was "huge passion", a lot of interest, and sometimes messages got confused.

"What we've learnt from this is that everybody is on the same page, but they are just talking different languages."