John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Kindergartens' low rent under threat

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Tauranga Region Kindergarten Association principal Peter Monteith.
Tauranga Region Kindergarten Association principal Peter Monteith.

Kindergartens will be at risk if they are forced to pay commercial rents to the Tauranga City Council.

Tauranga Region Kindergarten Association principal Peter Monteith delivered this blunt warning to the council on proposals to not allow any new early childhood education centres to be established on council-owned land.

The council is reviewing its policy that controls the community and private use of reserves. It includes a proposal that no new leases would be issued for early childhood centres and that existing leases would be considered against a list of criteria.

A potential consequence on renewing leases was that the council would take account of its "financial and future plans".

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Mr Monteith told the council this week that policies during the past 50 years should not be lightly discarded: "Some of the kindergartens would be at risk if they had to pay commercial rent."

A report to the meeting from recreation planner Sonya McCall said the council's role in providing land for early childhood education (ECE) centres was unclear.

"There is a question around whether council should be providing public open space for ECEs," she said.

Another amendment to the policy was that no new leases would be issued in perpetuity.

"This applies to all leases for all activities on council-administered land."

The only exception to the proposal to stop new centres was the relocation of the Mount Playcentre from Blake Park. The park's reserve management plan did not allow the lease to be renewed.

The report disclosed that the Mount Plunket Preschool had a perpetual right of renewal and that a process had begun to sell the Darraghs Rd site occupied by OPEYS Education and Care Centre to Plunket.

Mr Monteith said kindergartens would like to be judged on their difference of being not-for-profit rather than being lumped in with the rest of the early childhood education sector. "We have significant waiting lists."

He said they got a lot of parent support and were very much about preparing children for school.

There was an element of being a carer but kindergartens did not operate as a carer for working parents.

Mr Monteith said the draft wording was too loose and open to interpretation, particularly given the philosophical base of the kindergarten movement and its historic use of reserve land. Definitions in the policy should recognise not-for-profit kindergartens and playcentres under the definition "Community Use".

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Other proposed new policies affecting the renewal of early childhood education leases included demand for the site from other users, the purpose of owning the land, alternative options for the site and the legal status of the land.

Wayne Wright from BestStart Educare supported the changes to the policy. He said BestStart Educare was a not-for-profit operation. Ministry of Education grants to the early childhood sector were more than adequate to pay market rents, along with other costs.

There was a legacy around councils supporting not-for-profit early childhood education dating back to the 1960s but with tight council budgets it was not the way to go in the future, he said.

Mr Wright differentiated playcentres from the rest of the sector, saying they were about voluntarism.

The council will decide on the policy on May 9.

Annual rents paid by Tauranga early childhood centres on council land:

* Six kindergartens: $3600 total rent

* Two kohanga reo: $2375 and $230

* Four playcentres: $800, $565, $258 and $210

* OPEYS Education and Care Centre: $250

* Mount Plunket Preschool: Nil

- Bay of Plenty Times

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