Kindergarten Democracy Missing.
Dr Sarah Alexander.
4 October 2017.
The Auckland Kindergarten Association is at the precipice of completely losing its community roots.
While NZ as a nation prides itself on being a democracy, what I’ve read and what has transpired since writing an earlier article questioning consultation on the Auckland Kindergarten Association’s plan to change kindergarten hours and reduce some elements of quality for teaching and learning, suggests it feels little obligation to demonstrate even basic principles of democracy.
The only way this may be turned around is for constitutional reform at the AKA and a recommitment to the process of AGM accountability.
Furthermore, the management led by long-standing CEO Tanya Harvey needs to be open to parent voice – enable parent voice, encourage it and respect it.
Parents are currently rallying to bring ‘community’, fairness, and openness back into the AKA’s way of operating.
Democratic principles need to be reflected in how the AKA is managed, including:
- fair elections;
- recognition of the fundamental worth and dignity of each person;
- acceptance of the necessity of compromise; and,
- insistence on the freedom of people affected to express their perspectives and be listened to fairly and without bias.
There is also a pressing need for true representation of current kindergarten parents and teachers on the Board.
Will the AKA allow this to happen? The signs are not in favour of this.
Where things are at currently – Kindergarten Democracy Missing
Due to the hard work and commitment of parents, under conditions of no support and disapproval from AKA management to communicate and share information with others across AKA kindergartens, parents have rallied and some kindergartens have formed committees where none existed previously.
They have worked under pressure to have elections of office holders take place by a September 30th deadline so that they can have representation of a member from their kindergarten at the forthcoming 2017 annual general meeting of the AKA. It would appear though that the AKA management has attempted to distract parents and obstruct the setting up of committees – in mid-September the AKA management responded to parent action by putting out new guidelines for kindergarten meetings and the election of chair people on the staff internal intranet for head teachers to discover.
The sudden updating of the policy that had existed for around 10 years and timing of release (not until mid-September when it was dated August) is astonishing. Moreover a 2 week notice period is required for Kindergarten AGMs which could mean that any kindergartens that held its AGM before mid-September to meet the notice period could have their meeting invalidated as they did not have the new guidelines to follow at the time.
A requirement that has been added is that “the elected Chairperson of each Constituent Kindergarten is responsible for ensuring that no member of a Constituent Kindergarten shall undertake any action that brings the Association’s reputation into disrepute.”
Issuing such a requirement that is not within the wording of the AKA constitution, could be interpreted as AKA management placing kindergarten chairpersons in the role of being the police and censor on its behalf of the views of other parents. It could also be interpreted as a message that only parents who tow the party line and agree with its view can be chairpersons. So much for the rights of parents to voice their views on matters that affect them and their children, the people who are teaching their children, and their kindergarten!
An even bigger problem is a possibility of the AKA management appointing kindergarten representatives instead of approving kindergarten elected chairpersons on a technicality, and/ or that it will decide to stack votes by appointing from its own office staff or from those in agreement with management’s views. It is allowed at present in the AKA’s constitution: “If the Group fails to elect a parent/whanau support group, the Chief Executive Officer shall be entitled to appoint a management committee of its choosing” and the management committee need only be made up of those with an interest in the kindergarten (by-laws 1.1) not from the actual kindergarten itself.
For certain there will be many eyes on what happens at the AKA’s annual general meeting and afterward!
The beginning of repression of parent voice and community-based decision-making can be traced back to some 20 years ago as the AKA began to adopt a more business orientation. Active encouragement of parents to be involved decreased and when the government’s 20-Hour ECE funding policy came in, remaining kindergarten committees were told they had to fold – all funding and the money paid by parents in optional fees was to be directed to the growing head office. Kindergarten management committees were replaced with an option for parents to form ‘parent and whanau support’ groups.
“As Tanya Harvey (AKA’s CEO) noted, kindergartens don’t need a committee to function effectively: We’ve got our base requirements of what we need, which is that we have got a member for the association, but that also that you’re engaging with your parents in some way shape or form” (Mace, 2016).
The Annual General Meeting was shifted from a time when the most people could attend to when least could attend. The 2016 minutes are not available but may reflect a similar limitation of representation as in 2015 when the AGM was held on a Wednesday morning at 9.30am in a central Auckland office and finished at 9.45am.
Note that an example of a situation which has led the Courts to declare meetings invalid due to inadequate or inappropriate notice is when a meeting is deliberately held at a time or place intended to prevent some members attending.
Only four board members attended the 2015 AGM and the general manager (CEO Tanya Harvey) – there was no one else except for a large number of management office staff who may have been counted towards achieving a quorum (but under the AKA’s constitution these people are not members).
Some other questionable aspects of AGM meeting and Board election processes include:
- The CEO has voting rights at the AGM.
- The CEO has the ability to choose and appoint ‘members’ she wishes to have represent kindergartens at the AGM.
- Under its constitution the AKA does not have an obligation to place adverts in the newspaper or put up signs at kindergartens advising parents of the AKA’s AGM date and place.
- In the 2016 Annual Report, Chairman Simon Jones says that the AKA Board appoints its own Board members: “The AKA Board has spent time reviewing its composition … and has appointed two new members, Carolyn Tremain and Clive Nelson.”
- There is no constitutional requirement for teacher and kindergarten parent representation on the Board.
The AKA’s executive committee or Board, as it is known, is no longer reflective of its community-base (see the 2011 AKA Chairperson’s report which acknowledges the work that was put into transforming the governance body of the AKA into a professional Board.) A private recruitment company has been known to have been hired to assist with appointments.
Between 2015 and 2016 spending on 9 senior managers increased by 18%, an increase way larger than the pay increases of its teachers, and out of line with inflation and what other comparable kindergarten association paid their senior managers. The Board chairman was paid an honorarium of $10,400, increasing to $10,800 at the 2016 AGM. The AKA Board also spent over $800,000 on external consultant services (even though it already was spending large on senior managers). Yet the AKA has this year told parents that it is under-funded and that they must pay fees for more hours of care than they necessarily see as being desirable for their child. Teachers’ non-contact time and professional development time is being slashed.
After the AKA chose to go for 20-Hour Free ECE funding introduced in 2007, the AKA progressively changed kindergartens from sessional free kindergarten services (as defined under the law) to all-day licenses, providing care for children for more than 4 hours and up to 6 hours a day. Despite protests from parents and communities the AKA management proceeded to change kindergartens to all-day licensed care.
The same is happening again this year – a plan for change was announced before a proper process of consultation was conducted and the AKA management has proceeded with its plan regardless.
It has transpired that the AKA management:
- Did not provide parents and whanau with the information needed to adequately assess the plan, the necessity of the changes that were proposed, and risks and benefits.
- Informed parents that the changes were necessary for “future families” and children who are “excluded” from attending kindy because parents have chosen another service for longer hours of care – thereby displacing currently enrolled children and families and removing their right to have a say because they were told the changes were not about them.
- Ignored the aspirations held by parents, families and whanau for choosing kindergarten for their children, for example, in telling parents that it would be better if children went to kindergarten during school term break so parents could spend time at home with their school-age children.
- Denigrated the responses of parents who had contacted the CEO directly as instructed about the changes by stating that they are a “small number” and “less than 2% of our families”, and made comments such as “Some people are applauding the AKA for being ‘bold and courageous’ in addressing the issues we face and adapting our model to better work for many families, whilst others are disappointed that we are not continuing to operate ‘like it was when I went to kindy”. (Note that even if it were only a minority of parents vocalising opposition, not treating the minority with respect, showing a great deal of negativity and seeking to devalue minority viewpoints is not a principle that underlies a democracy).
- Instructed kindergarten teachers and staff not to talk to parents about management’s plan but to refer parents to the CEO and the AKA’s website. Parents with limited English and those who may not have confidence or time to contact a chief executive person whom they are unlikely to know are then left unable to find out more and/ or to object the plan.
- Assumed that parents and families who did not speak up and contact the CEO personally were in favour of the plan.
- Issued a letter to parents stating that information being shared among parents and kindergartens about management’s changes for kindergartens was not accurate and (by implication) to ignore what anyone else might say or write. AKA management did not explain what was being said that was inaccurate and the feedback received was not discussed/ shared with parents.
This is an opinion piece, researched and written by Dr Alexander. Corrections are welcomed and will be made to the article if needed.