No reprieve is in sight for the parents, staff and children of the Riverstones Early Learning Centre.
The purpose-built centre which opened in the town in 2013 will close on Friday due to a lack of qualified early-childhood-trained staff.
Manager Philippa Stansfield said staff members were devastated the centre needed to close because a teacher could not be found.
“We’ve tried our hardest to find a qualified early childhood teacher to stay open and there’s just no-one around,” Miss Stansfield said.
“We’ve exhausted all options.”
She travelled from Gore each day and had been working at the preschool since 2015, two of those years as manager.
The centre was licensed for 33 children but there were 50 on the roll and 20 more on the waiting list.
The centre received positive feedback from parents and teachers about how well prepared preschoolers were for school and now, apart from the playcentre, “there’s going to be nothing”.
She knew of a primary-trained teacher who would like to work at the centre but ministry requirements were the three teachers needed early childhood teaching qualifications.
The plan was to close until February while renovations were completed which would make the facility bigger and able to take more children.
This would help reduce the number of children on the waiting list if staff could be found, she said.
Parent Ashleigh Brewer said parents had been blindsided by the news last week.
“It’s the only childcare facility … they gave us 11 days’ notice,” Miss Brewer said.
“Lumsden [is] losing a vital part of the community that a lot of parents depend on because they are working.”
It was bad timing as lambing and calving were about to start, she said.
The owner, based in Auckland, who did not wish to be named said New Zealand’s teacher shortage, the lack of accommodation in the town and the ongoing struggle to attract people to Lumsden had compounded.
“I tried until the last minute … I am still trying to get people to come down and work for me.
“I am happy to pay their rent; I am happy to pay for their travel.”
However, even offering to cover accommodation and travel costs was not enough, she said.
“The closest [accommodation] I can find for them is Winton and Gore and they don’t want to drive. It becomes even harder. ”
Ministry of Education sector enablement and support deputy secretary Helen Hurst said while primary teachers could and did work in early childhood education (ECE), the ministry required at least 50% of teachers to be specifically trained and qualified to look after preschool-aged children.
The ministry was working closely with the sector to improve the supply of ECE teachers.
”We have a range of targeted initiatives to help centres with their recruitment, including marketing campaigns encouraging ECE teachers already qualified to come back teaching and teacher education refresh programme enrolment places to help ECE teachers rejoin the profession.”
Southland MP Joseph Mooney said it was very disappointing the situation led to the closure of an education centre that nurtured and educated Lumsden’s children.
“Early learning centres in rural towns provide vital services for parents in a range of working situations,” Mr Mooney said.
Unless the Minister of Education took urgent action other preschool centre closures could follow, he said.
Families have already been hit hard in the past with the closure of the Lumsden Birthing Centre in 2018.