O’Farrell Refuses to Budge on School Funding Cuts

The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has refused to give any ground on his plan to slash $1.7 billion from the education budget over the next four years. He has rebuffed a call by a coalition of government and private school organisations for the cuts to be reversed. The coalition put the Premier on notice that he faces a major political backlash up to the next NSW election.

The representatives, who collectively form the NSW Education Alliance, left the meeting astounded that the Premier would continue trying to justify the biggest cuts to education in a generation when faced by the combined opposition of virtually every person involved in the NSW education system.

“We refuse to accept these cuts and today we told the Premier that we won’t back down. School communities across NSW will fight this decision until it is over-turned,” said Lila Mularczyk, the President of the NSW Secondary Principals Council.

“A budget is always about choices and priorities. It was absolutely astonishing that the Premier of NSW is willingly putting NSW education in jeopardy.”

Mr Stephen Grieve, the President of the NSW Parents Council, which represents parents of children at independent schools, warned the cuts would put the Government’s future at risk, despite its large majority.

“The Greiner Government had a significant majority but, after Dr Terry Metherell tried to behave in a similar fashion, they were reduced to a minority government,’’ Mr Grieve said.

“This coalition of very large groups, both professional associations and parents groups, from all sectors is simply unprecedented. It shows the resolute and implacable opposition to these cuts.”

“The cuts are outrageous and it is clear the Government has completely misunderstood the significance of education to the community. This is going to be a very rough period for the Government.”’

Dr John Collier, the chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia in NSW, said it was absurd that as the Federal Government was planning to give money with one hand through the Gonski process while the State Government was busy taking with the other.

“We can’t achieve the Government’s goal of improving educational performance when it is cutting funds for schools. It’s just not acceptable,” Dr Collier said.

“We’ve got everybody here in absolute agreement. We are determined to stand with our colleagues against any cuts to education.”

Independent schools will have to make cuts inside the school gate, Dr Collier said. “There is no bureaucracy where cuts can be made so this has to affect frontline services.”

Ms Danielle Cronin, the Executive Director of the Council of Catholic School Parents in NSW, said any reduction in funding will affect the quality of the Catholic schools and how many parents could afford to choose them.

“I think it is a tragedy that education across the board would have the guts ripped out of it by a Government which has said that education is a State priority,” Ms Cronin said.

“We measure the quality of our community by the quality of the education we provide our young people and that will be grossly undermined in NSW.”

A week earlier, the Alliance sent an open letter to the Premier vehemently opposing the funding cuts. The letter said that there is a vast gap between the Government’s rhetoric on school funding and its practice.

“It initially stood out in its forthright support for implementation of the Gonski recommendations. It has now demonstrated that this support will not be backed up by the funding needed. It has been determined to pass more responsibility and the associated workload to schools – it has now demonstrated that this will not be properly funded.”

“The recent announcement of a State Budget surplus undermines any credibility of the need for cuts to the education portfolio. This short-sighted approach also places at risk the access by NSW students and schools to the critically-needed Commonwealth funding recommended by the Gonski report.”

Since the open letter was distributed a number of other professional associations and unions have made contact with the group to participate in a campaign to reverse the NSW Government funding cuts to education.

They are being supported by many parents across the state. Warren Ross, a Katoomba government school parent, angrily wrote to his local MP:

“I have just come back from Sydney to protest against your cuts to public education where I met many people who will be affected by your actions. Before you were elected you didn’t tell us of these plans. Why not?….You are supposed to fight for your community not cower behind party dissembling… You either find money within your budget or join us in calling for a better deal from the Federal Government but this game of hiding behind each other must stop.”

Bungendore government school parent, Sharon Baxter-Judge, told a community public education forum in Queanbeyan earlier in the month that:

“I could not believe it when the O’Farrell Government announced a $1.7billion cut to education. This was after my local MP’s office told me a few months prior that they would be no funding cuts to education. Cuts to education are not necessary. They should never have been considered.”

The NSW Teachers’ Federation has vowed to fight the cuts. President, Maurie Mulheron, told the Queanbeyan meeting that “the huge cuts heralded one of the most dangerous times in the history of public education…the changes will be dramatic and far-reaching”.

As Lila Mularczyk of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council says:

“It is beyond comprehension that our state government that has carriage and responsibility for ensuring quality education for all students would prioritise subsidising casinos at the expense of our students’ future.”

It looks like the battle will continue into the next school year and on to the next NSW state election.

Trevor Cobbold

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