Teacher Cuts Undermine Public Education

It is with deep regret that the teaching profession in ACT public schools is once again forced into the position of taking industrial action.

The ACT Budget was brought down on 6 June locking in place the cut of 145 teaching positions in schools [120 or 10% from secondary schools] worth $12.5m on an annual basis and 90 positions from the Central Office [a cut of $6m in this financial year and $11.5m in the following financial year]. Further job cuts are planned in the Towards 2020 proposals including 22 senior positions for 2007.

The $12.5m cut to teaching positions has two purposes. The first is to pay an additional 1%pa salary increase for all teachers to lift the Government’s salary offer of 3%pa to 4%pa to match the CPI. The second is to provide a windfall gain to ACT Treasury by cutting the full number of teaching positions required to fund the salary offer over 3 years in the first year of a new Agreement.

The cuts are described as productivity measures by the Chief Minister but they impact disproportionately on schools, with high schools and colleges losing the vast majority of teaching positions.

This will force staff remaining after the cuts to massively increase their teaching hours and ancillary workload. It is ironic that the Stanhope Government, which went to the last election promising to increase high school staff by 2 per high school, is now cutting by an average of 5-6 teachers per school.

In all the spin doctored public pronouncements that the Chief Minister and Minister Barr have made, neither of them has addressed how a massive cut to teaching staff, and a substantial increase in workload for an already stretched workforce, can lead to improved outcomes for students.

They have used the Budget to set in place huge reductions in ongoing operational support for schools while claiming that the disruption created by the Towards 2020 program and the 39 sites targeted for closure is in the best interests of the system.

The educational fantasyland that the Government is selling to the ACT community is in fact a potential wilderness with a skeleton bureaucracy struggling to support under-resourced schools. [Our secondary schools will be the worst staffed in the country with the exception of Tasmania, yet still expected to deliver school based curriculum and assessment.]

Any new recruits to the system will face a superannuation scheme that is at a minimum 6.4% worse than their colleagues and worse than what is offered in Catholic and independent schools in the ACT. Experienced teachers’ salaries are already 4.5% behind NSW and 4-5% behind independent and Catholic school teachers and this differential is likely to worsen.

No government school system or Catholic system employer in Australia, except the ACT Government, has required job cuts and other savings to pay a 4% CPI equivalent or better salary outcome. [WA has just fully funded 9%pa over 2 years plus additional support for schools.]

Educationalists, parents, community activists, political players from all party affiliations from all around the nation are watching with amazement and in some cases horror as the ACT Government has set about destroying itself. In the process it is inflicting enormous collateral damage on its public education system and its workforce, previously among its strongest supporters for the more considered and progressive approach of its earlier years.

A Government that prefers political spin, abuse and underhand practice to transparency, good faith negotiation and real consultation will have no future in this community. The problem is that for public education and its teachers, such an outcome may be too late.

Clive Haggar
Branch Secretary
AEU – ACT Branch

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