Parents with children at a South Coast daycare center have been given one month to find a new service after the Department of Education announced it would not renew the lease for the site.
- Big Fat Smile has been told it must vacate its Milton site next month
- Families say all other centers in the area are full
- The department and local leaders say they are working to increase capacity at nearby centres
The site of Milton’s Big Fat Smile center is set to be used for a new special needs school.
The development application for construction was lodged with Shoalhaven Council in December.
It is yet to be approved.
Marc Donnelley, whose daughter Aria is in her final year at the centre, says there is frustration and fear among parents.
“My daughter is in the last year of her early childhood education and this is meant to be the year she cements all her learning objectives and cements herself for big school,” Mr Donnelly said.
“In four weeks time she is going to be locked out of the place she loves, she’s probably going to be split up from most of her friends and we’re expected to cover that and manage that.”
Phil McDonald, the chief executive of surf brand Ocean and Earth, started his child at the center three weeks ago but was not told anything about the closure.
“We had others [childcare] spots available, which we gave up to go to this one,” he said.
“If we can’t find another spot, we’ll have to drop a day or two and pick up a nanny.”
Mr McDonald has called for the DA process to be halted for three to six months.
Big Fat Smile chief executive Kim Bertino said the center was notified last week that it would not be able to remain at the site.
“We have been trying to work towards having a temporary site where the center is located at the moment,” she said.
“With the department, it’s been unsuccessful to remain on that site and there is no option to extend.”
The Liberal candidate for Gilmore, Luke Sikora, criticized the Department of Education’s decision.
“I am sharing their frustration and disappointment at the Department’s decision,” he said after speaking with parents today.
“We do have a DA for a new childcare site, meters away from this one and I call on council to expedite that approval.”
He said he was working with other childcare services in a bid to address the matter.
“We are looking to increase capacity of childcare services in the area and we have received expressions of interest from centers willing to do that,” Mr Sikora said.
Labor candidate Liza Butler said she was starting a petition to take to Education Minister Sarah Mitchell and Labor’s education spokesperson, Pru Carr, to try to prevent the closure.
“It doesn’t matter which way you look at it — this situation is totally unacceptable and my heart goes out to the families and employees affected,” Ms Butler said.
In 2020 the state government announced a plan to relocate the Budawang School for Specific Purposes to part of the site in a move that would benefit about 30 students with special needs.
All major political parties on the South Coast have also made NSW election commitments to utilize the site for public education in the future.
In a statement, the Department of Education told the ABC it was “working with nearby service providers to increase local capacity where possible and assist impacted families to find alternate care options”.
“Families can be assured there is capacity at nearby services,” a spokesperson said.
“Plans to establish a new early childhood center at the Budawang site are currently underway and further updates will be provided to the community in coming months.”
The spokesperson encouraged families to contact the department on 1800 619 113 if they required additional support.