FAMILIES at St Joseph's Primary Merewether have called on the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to reverse its decision to take over the provision of out-of-school-hours care at the school, raising concerns over the lack of consultation, short notice and wording of a letter confirming the move.
An online petition asking for current operator KidsConnect Australia (KCA) to be reinstated as the school's OOSH provider had more than 300 signatures at the time of publication on Wednesday night.
KCA service coordinator Renee Murray and approved provider Bridgette Murray met with St Nicholas OOSH general operations manager Tracey Sweetman for about 15 minutes on Wednesday afternoon.
"We've been absolutely blindsided by this," Mrs Murray said.
"I'm extremely disappointed for the families, especially the children. I'm sad, but I'm so concerned and gutted for the children."
The Murrays wrote to families on Tuesday, after the diocese informed them by email on Monday afternoon that it was ending KCA's operations at the school and with a request to transfer the licence.
The Murrays said they had asked the diocese for clarification following an October 27 Newcastle Herald story about the diocese planning to expand its St Nicholas OOSH service "over time" to all its schools.
"After a month of waiting this is a truly disappointing outcome for KidsConnect Australia," they wrote.
"We are, understandably, incredibly disappointed by the decision... this process has ended a small family operated local business.
"Furthermore, KidsConnect Australia are saddened and appalled at the processes that St Nicholas OOSH have employed during this time, with no consultation occurring between the school community, families and KidsConnect Australia."
Mrs Murray said she asked Ms Sweetman on Wednesday afternoon why the diocese had "targeted" St Joseph's, when it had other schools without OOSH services or services that had drawn complaints.
"She went dead quiet and told us that's the way things were mapped out," Mrs Murray said.
"She said Friday was when it was [made] definite."
Ms Sweetman had also written to parents on Tuesday night, pointing the finger at KCA.
"KCA have made this decision, and it does not reflect the proposal put forward by St Nicholas OOSH," Ms Sweetman wrote.
"We understand that the transfer of services from KCA to St Nicholas OOSH is occurring with limited notice.
"St Nicholas OOSH offered KCA the opportunity to extend their current contract, which expires on January 1, 2020.
"However, KCA declined this offer."
Diocese chief executive officer Sean Scanlon told the Herald the diocese proposed on November 25 extending the contract to January 24.
"This equated to providing KCA with 63 days notice," he said.
But Mrs Murray said this spanned the Christmas shut down period and would cause distress.
"How am I meant to tell my staff 'Have your three weeks off then you can you come back for 10 days and then be unemployed?'" she said.
"My staff need certainty."
KCA's last day of operation will be December 20.
School mother of two Olivia Knox described Ms Sweetman's letter to families as "disgraceful and poor PR".
"I can't believe the slant they chose to put on this," Ms Knox said.
"The communication could have been 'We understand this is an emotional time', but instead they chose to add a negative light over KCA, like they asked for it."
Mr Scanlon said the diocese told all of its Catholic school principals of the decision to "eventually transition all OOSH licences to St Nicholas OOSH" in late 2018.
Mr Scanlon said St Nicholas OOSH was a not-for profit service and wanted funds used "within our own not for profit activities".
"For this reason, and because of our commitment to consistently high standards of care, we will not be reconsidering our move to operate St Nicholas OOSH services from St Joseph's Primary School in Merewether."
Mr Scanlon said St Nicholas OOSH would start operating on January 6, which he said was a week before KCA planned to resume operations.
He said existing staff would be offered the first opportunity to apply for jobs.
"The diocese intends to work in collaboration with KCA to to facilitate a transition that has minimal impact on staff, students and families," he said.
"This will be dependent upon the co-operation of KCA in transferring the licence.
"If KCA does not formally agree to transfer the licence before the end of next week... students from the school will be offered care from an alternate St Nicholas OOSH location."
Mr Scanlon said St Nicholas OOSH would have the same fees, operate to the same hours and have the same enrolment capacity.
KCA's service is currently at its capacity of 64 on four afternoons a week and has waiting lists of at least 20 on these afternoons.
"With parents approval, we will be able to access information regarding pre-arranged care and we will honour these commitments," Mr Scanlon said.
Parents said on Wednesday they had not yet been advised of these details.
Ms Knox said the P&F and then school principal Peter Treloar worked together to establish OOSH on site and chose KCA from three contenders to start in 2017.
She said there had been no such opportunity for families to compare St Nicholas with other providers through a tender process.
"The OOSH is there to serve the parents and children," she said.
"It's beautiful, we love them and we don't see a reason for change.
"Even if there was an underlying commercial reason, the way it's been executed is absolutely disgusting.
"If there was a 12 month transition period KCA could have the opportunity to gain another OOSH contract.
"Telling someone now it's near impossible to get another contract for next year.
"Even if the outcome was the same it could have been managed much better."
Mother of two Alana Dagwell said families were "heartbroken for KCA going out of business prior to Christmas".
"They're really popular and really well liked," she said.
St Nicholas OOSH will hold an information session at St Joseph's on December 2.