Written by E. Kelly, CPSG Board Member (as at May 2009)
The Combined Pre-schools of Southern Grampians (CPSG) was initiated in 1995 due to the Department of Health & Community Services at the time publishing a project brief entitled “Effective Management Structure for the delivery of children’s services; An Alternative Approach” in which they proposed amalgamation as an alternative for services facing closure due to low enrolments. Some funding was made available to groups wishing to investigate the process.
Bronwyn Herbert, the then Manager of Community Services for the Southern Grampians Shire Council, obtained funding to provide a consultant to work with all Pre-schools within the Shire of Southern Grampians. Alice McNaught from “Success Works” was appointed to work with those Pre-schools who were interested in this idea.
Representatives from all the Pre-schools across the Shire were invited to a meeting where the project was outlined and potential benefits investigated. Some of the benefits identified were:
- The survival of some services in the group by spreading enrolments across a group of Pre-schools.
- Pooling of funds enabling better investment opportunities.
- Bulk purchasing on resources for the Pre-schools.
- Sharing of toys and equipment between Pre-schools.
- A reduced demand for volunteers on site committee’s with some management functions being taken on by a Board comprising representatives from each preschool.
- Enhanced opportunities for preschool staff with the opportunity of sharing ideas with other staff members and accessing staff training and professional development opportunities as a group.
- It was felt the group would have a stronger voice as one to influence decision makers on issues pertinent to Pre-schools and have more clout as a group when debating or working on issues with relevant authorities.
In June 1995, a further meeting was held with those services prepared to continue with the project of forming the new combined group. Six Pre-schools continued with two from Hamilton (Church Hill and Patterson Park) and four from outlying rural areas (Branxholme, Cavendish, Dunkeld and Penshurst). Fortnightly meetings were held and areas covered during this time with Terms of Reference, Philosophy, Objectives, Management and Operational Structures, Staffing, Finances, Future Tasks, Timelines, Constit6utions and Incorporations. As you can imagine, the hours dedicated to these tasks was huge by a small number of volunteers.
At the end of this time, each service held a Special General Meeting where their management committee, as it stood, was dissolved. Two representatives were then elected from each site to be part of the newly formed Combined Pre-schools of Southern Grampians Board of Management. This move was not made lightly by any of the sites involved, but they all believed at the time that their future viability depended on success of the amalgamation. All staff employed at the sites were consulted and a staff representative position was also created to give them a voice at Board meetings. The new Board finally became an incorporated body in January 1996.
DHS (Department of Human Services) then provided a further grant to help with the formation of a Strategic Plan for CPSG and Alice McKnight was re-employed to assist CPSG with this Plan to cover the period 1995 to 2000. The plan was completed in December 1995.
The first 12 months was an intense learning period for those volunteers involved as they endeavoured to work within a totally new management structure. There were many instances where decisions that should have been made by the Board of Management were made at site level, resulting in some sticky situations. Also, during that time, members of the Board were coming to terms wi9th developing their roles and much of this period was devoted to developing and acceptance of uniform policies for the group as well as learning ways to establish effective guidelines to assist with communication between the Board and individual sites. Great attention to establishing budgets at both site level and CPSG were also undertaken. At times during this process, some of the rural sites with low 4-year-old enrolments had to operate with fewer hours during some periods as an alternative to closing their doors. Support was given to the small rural sites from the CPSG Board to enable these sites to remain open and this was achievable due to the availability of group funding coming in from other sites in the cluster.
Unfortunately, in 1999, Patterson Park went into recess after only attracting nine four-year-old enrolments. CPSG had already supported this site financially in 1998 during a time of low enrolments as well. This site never reopened.
CPSG continued to evolve as an amalgamated group. Its roles, strategies and policies were revised and changed, implemented and discarded as situations warranted. It very quickly became apparent that what CPSG was doing was in effect managing a business on a volunteer basis, finding increasingly that there were many instances where volunteers did not always have the total knowledge and skills needed. CPSG relied heavily on the advice of KPV (Kindergarten Parents Victoria) and the Shire’s Community Services Officer.
Other challenges that were presented at the Board were the loss of experienced Board members once their 2 year term was completed. As is the case today, changeover of members at both Board and site levels, for many reasons, results in lack of continuity that sometimes impacts not only at site level, but at Board level as well.
From year to year, in the majority of cases, preschool parents who volunteered for positions on the Board were finding themselves in that kind of position for the very first time. Volunteer members of the Board, especially those holding Executive positions, found themselves having to juggle the multiple roles of employer, paymaster, financial planner, industrial representative and policy writer, along with expecting to have knowledge of the Early Childhood industry. A daunting task for any volunteer parent to say the least.
In 1997 approximately, it was decided that the Board needed to investigate the need to obtain some professional level of support to assist the Board with the running of our Pre-schools at Board level. It was becoming increasingly difficult to get volunteers to take on executive roles due to the high level of tasks expected of them. The Board set about obtaining funding to go about ways of obtaining some extra assistance with things such as administration and payroll tasks. Many temporary measures were tried with the Shire assisting the Board with some low level administrative tasks, as well as payroll. Due to a number of reasons, this arrangement did not work.
In 1998, a group called ECMS came forward offering some of the services CPSG were looking for and began assisting with things such as payroll and management of staff entitlements, CPSG and site budgets, and liaising with DHS with data collection and funding issues which was of great assistance to the Board at the time. The partnership with ECMS continued for a number of years.
In 2004 the Board engaged Get Smart IT (a local Hamilton company) to assist with the management of financial matters relating to the sites and the Board, as well as assisting with budgets and reports necessary on an ongoing basis. Get Smart IT also assisted the CPSG Board with lodging their audit report to the necessary department each year. They also managed staff wages, long service and leave entitlements, as well as the generating and collecting of preschool fees at sites within CPSG. They also oversaw the funding that CPSG received from the now DEECD (Department of Early Education Children’s Department). Get Smart IT remain an important part of the CPSG Board, providing vital assistance to not only our preschool site Treasurers, but the CPSG Executive as well.
Around late 2002, funding was obtained to enable the Board to create the position of an Executive Officer who would be employed by the Board to assist with the everyday running and management of tasks associated with the Board, preschool site committees, parents and the CPSG staff. In particular, things like staff contracts and appraisals were just a few things that volunteer Board members lacked the knowledge and experience to carry out and it was necessary to recruit someone with experience in the Early Childhood Educator area. The first Executive Officer commenced with CPSG in February/March 2003 and this position still exists to this day (14 hours per week) and is a vital part of the Board’s success in managing the current six Pre-schools within the CPSG cluster group.
Around 2000, Mitchell Park also joined CPSG and in 2003, Coleraine joined. During this time, CPSG Board members also met with other standalone Pre-schools such as Balmoral and North Hamilton, approaching them about joining the CPSG cluster.
2006 was a year where the Shire of Southern Grampians and the Board worked through a proposal from the Shire to possibly take over the management of the cluster group. Many meetings were held at both site and Board level to try and work through the proposal to the benefit of all seven Pre-schools who were involved. A vote was taken at all seven sites regarding the proposal, with six of the seven sites voting against taking up the Shire’s offer. There were a number of reasons why the sites vote went against the Shire’s proposal, with some of the main sticking points being the uncertainty of the rural site’s futures should their four-year-old enrolments drop below 6 during any particular year and the Shire’s unwillingness to retain the position of the Executive Officer in its current form.
The Board continues to receive in kind support from the current Southern Grampians Shire Council in the following ways:
- a meeting room is made available for the monthly Board meetings at no charge
- photocopying services are provided at no cost
- a room at the Shire has been allocated to CPSG for storage purposes at no change.
In 2007, Coleraine left the group expressing their disappointment that CPSG had not take up the Shire’s proposal. This left CPSG with six services again.
In summary, CPSG, after some shaky and challenging times early on, has in more recent years been able to grow from strength to strength. This has mainly been due to some strong leadership at Board level, the assistance of the Board’s Executive Officer and the support provided by Get Smart IT. Over the years the Board has had some strong people in leadership positions at Board Executive level, who have willingly provided so many hours of volunteer labour.
Going forward, the challenges for the CPSG Board of Management are as follows:
- Continuing to attract suitable volunteers to take on Executive and representative roles within the Board in the future. It is imperative that site representatives act as the link between Board and site committees, making sure matters of the Board are being taken back to site level and vice versa.
- The Board needs to continue to promote and support the current six sites who are members of the current CPSG cluster and continue to employ suitable directors and assistants to staff these sites.
- Offer guidance, advice and assistance to Committee’s at site level, ensuring they remain strong in their governance and everyday running of sites in accordance with DEECD licensing requirements.