Claims after-school care being used as ‘cash cow’

The anti-corruption watchdog may be asked to investigate a number of public schools where lucrative contracts to run after-school care centres at public schools have been awarded to private companies.

Key points:

  • Some principals treating afterschool care as ‘cash cows’
  • Haberfield not-for-profit care price raised to $40k
  • Several schools being referred to the ICAC

The national organisation for out-of-school-hours (OOSH) care claims some school principals are treating after-care as a “cash cow” and are putting contracts out to tender to raise revenue for the school.

Robyn Monro Miller, the chief executive officer of Network of Community Activities, said the situation was “out of control” and that not-for-profit services run by parents were being overlooked in breach of NSW Department of Education guidelines.

“There are people out there who think they can make a profit from out of school hours care,” she told the ABC.

“I’m concerned that decisions are being made on who win tenders by how much money a school could get from an out of hours provider and that’s not a good basis for making these decisions.”

Last month, parents at Haberfield Public School in Sydney’s inner west received a letter advising them that out of school hours care was being put out to tender.

“Why would we need it to go private, so we could raise prices?” said Melissa Kemp, a member of the parent-run Haberfield OOSH (HOOSH) Committee.

The issue is that where you have got existing services functioning really well, there is no reason to put them out to tender.

Robyn Monro Miller, Network of Community Activities CEO

The Department of Education said the decision was made after attempts to negotiate a licence agreement with HOOSH had failed.

Up until now, the not-for-profit centre had been paying the school a token rent of $1 a year.

The HOOSH committee was informed that under the new licence agreement that would be increased to $40,000 a year.

The Department of Education said the fee would be even higher for a private operator.

Parents were assured there would be no change in the number of after-school care places and the current provider HOOSH would have the opportunity to submit a tender.

Worry over affordability of care if HOOSH loses contract

But many parents were worried about what would happen if HOOSH lost the contract.

With 150 children on the waiting list for after-school care, Peter Erken considered himself lucky to have a spot for his seven-year-old daughter Sophia.

“Median house prices are up in the millions and rents are like $1,000 around here for a house for a week, so you can imagine both parents have to work,” he said.

“If you can’t fall back on the public school system to support you, who are you going to fall back on?”

Bryony Mica works part-time and has a daughter in Year 3 who goes to after-school care two afternoons a week.

Her younger daughter is due to start school next year.

“I’m not quite sure what I’ll do if I can’t get her an after care place,” she said.

“The options could be that we have to enrol her at a different school.”

‘Flys in the face of government policy’

Ms Monro Miller said what was happening at Haberfield was not an isolated case.

“We don’t object to OOSH services going out to private tender,” she said.

“The issue is that where you have got existing services functioning really well, there is no reason to put them out to tender.

“It really flys in the face of NSW government policy.”

Ms Monro Miller said shifting after-school care from the not-for-profit sector to private operators penalised working parents.

“Not only are families paying more, they are actually being charged twice,” she said.

“They’ve already paid their tax, they’ve already funded public education so why should the working parent have to fund it again?”

She said the vast majority of public school principals were acting in the interests of the school community.

‘”We have got incredible principals in the New South Wales education system,” Ms Monro Miller said.

“You get random principals who have got different agendas and are not looking at the needs of their communities and when that happens — it’s disastrous for that community.”

The Network of Community Services said it was considering referring several cases to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.