14 Aug 2020

ECE centres fear financial impact of extended Auckland Covid-19 lockdown

11:08 am on 14 August 2020

Auckland early learning centres fear financial disaster and widespread layoffs if the city's level 3 lockdown extends into next week.

children sit on the mat at an early childhood centre

Under alert level 3, only the children of essential workers and those who cannot stay home are allowed in early learning and schools. Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

Centre owners say they could not survive without parents' fees and they would need government support if attendance was banned for an extended period.

Under alert level 3, only the children of essential workers and those who cannot stay home are allowed in early learning and schools.

The Ministry of Education yesterday told centres it would continue to pay their subsidies while they were closed and it would not claw-back funding at the end of the year for under-attendance.

However, centre owners said about half their income came from fees and they would need government funding such as a wage subsidy to replace that money.

Auckland centre-owner, Linda Petrenko, said the pandemic had reduced attendance at her centre because some parents were working fewer hours.

She said that was hard enough to deal with without the added pressure of another lockdown.

"If it goes beyond the three days, then we're in a situation of difficulty. We've already had to reduce our staffing by one. If we don't get the coverage again by some sort of subsidy against a wage then there will be more lay-offs of teachers probably across all services," she said.

Maree Moselen owns four centres in Auckland with 27 staff.

She said she was stunned by the late-night announcement of the move to alert level 3 and it would be tough if the restrictions were extended into next week.

"It's going to be financially tough because half of our income comes from parent fees and without those parent fees, which obviously we can't charge when the service is closed, I'm not sure how we are going to pay our wages and keep our buildings up to speed," she said.

Moselen said if her centres remained shut next week, she would consider putting teachers on leave.

Maria Johnson owns several centres including one in Auckland and said a subsidy would be essential if the lockdown continued.

"If I don't get a wage subsidy ... we won't get through this next lockdown," she said.

"It's not an easy sector to be in, we've had so many cuts over the past 10, 12 years where we've just really been ground down."

Johnson said a significant number of centres would struggle without a wage subsidy or similar support.

However, she said the previous lockdown showed centre owners also needed other forms of help.

"There was no support there for the mental wellbeing of what business owners were going through," she said.

"It was so stressful having the pressure on your shoulders to try and see how you were going to navigate your way through such an unknown period, we didn't even know when we were going to come out of lockdown.

"But trying to navigate your way through to ensure that you still had a job available for your team members when you came out of lockdown and you just felt responsible for all of your team and trying to navigate that, trying to ensure their livelihoods, their jobs were still there was very, very stressful."

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