Millgrove Preschool set to reopen but enrolments crucial for future

Millgrove Preschool is set to come back from its temporary closure on Monday 29 August. Picture: ON FILE

By Callum Ludwig

Millgrove Preschool’s temporary closure is set to end from Monday 29 August, with parents recently informed their children can return to their usual location.

Following the closure due to staffing issues with extended sick leave, 16 students were relocated to Warburton Preschool, while one went to Launching Place Preschool.

However, despite confirmation that Term 4 will proceed as planned, a decision is yet to be announced as to whether Millgrove Preschool will be able to open in 2023.

Yarra Ranges Kinders CEO Gaby Thomson said next year’s enrolments are crucial in keeping the site open.

“Right now is the time to enrol, so it’s critical. We’d love to be able to run the kinder ongoing, we just have to make sure that we have enough enrolments to be able to keep it open,” she said.

“Obviously, local parents are concerned and want to be able to access the local kinder, so we are focused on making sure people are aware they need to enrol now, especially as parents were informing us that often people take their time because they don’t think there’s competition, but we need to know.”

A group of concerned parents held a meeting with Ms Thomson and two managers at YR Kinders about the future of Millgrove Preschool recently.

An anonymous parent said they were worried they couldn’t be given a yes or no as to whether Millgrove Preschool would open next year.

“There are a lot of parents with children who are already enrolled for next year who don’t know where their children are going to go especially if other kinders in the area are already full, which a couple of them are,” they said.

“I thought the meeting went quite well and Gaby Thomson was very open but it seemed they are relying heavily on getting additional funding from the State Government which may or may not come. It seemed as though if they don’t receive funding or get more enrolments, it will close, even with an operating surplus of over $700,000.”

According to the annual reports, YR Kinders achieved an operating surplus of $735,112 in 2020-21 and a net surplus of $106,305 in 2019-20 after two years of deficits prior. YR Kinders operates 21 kinders, 20 in the Yarra Ranges and one in Knox, and only Warburton Preschool is classified and funded as rural.

Ms Thomson came into the CEO role in January 2022, after years of experience in other management positions.

Ms Thomson said the last two years impacted by Covid and not knowing the future have caused significant under-investment in the organisation, but if Millgrove Preschool could guarantee enough enrolments, funding and support would not be as needed.

“As with other businesses, it was difficult over the past two years of Covid, so we have been run very minimally as we were unsure what the future would hold. As the new CEO, part of what I’ve had to do is come in and look at where our gaps and needs are, to ensure the best and safest service for all children with YRKI,” she said.

“ It’s not dependent just on government support. although it would be helpful and is one of the many things we are discussing at the moment. Money is not just sitting there, it is currently being reinvested now as we go through and work out our plan for the needs of the whole of the organisation. Looking at one figure in an annual report is very different from actually going through our budget and understanding all the different needs for reinvestment, we are a registered not-for-profit.”

The parent said they were a lot of vulnerable families still in Millgrove, who may not be able to make a trip to somewhere like Warburton.

“Millgrove has changed a lot in the last five to 10 years, with a lot of new families coming in. Three to four-year-old kinder will be free from next year, and it’s all about making kinder more accessible than ever. You can’t treat Millgrove like other kinders within the organisation, because it’s just completely different up here,” they said.

“Warburton is the only one classed and funded as rural, even though Millgrove is in the same postcode. I feel like Millgrove is being discriminated against because we are a lower socioeconomic area. It’s just such a huge decision with kinders like Launching Place [Preschool] already at capacity for next year.”

One particular family has faced transport issues as a result of Millgrove Preschool’s temporary closure, and as such had to organise transport with another family.

Ms Thomson said if Millgrove closed, it is not the only early childhood service in the area.

“All families bar one had their own car, and there are five other services within a five to seven-kilometre radius. There are quite a lot of candidates in the area, which may be why the enrolment numbers are so low. The chances of not getting in anywhere are highly unlikely,” she said.

“The way to make sure Millgrove Preschool stays open is to enrol. Please Millgrove people and surrounds, get yourself enrolled. The sooner you enrol, the sooner we can confirm spots.”