Hargreaves pre-empts school sales, ‘shoots messenger’ and ignores ‘mandate’ to save schools

Territories and Municipal Services Minister, John Hargreaves appears to be blatantly disregarding community needs while pre-empting a plan to sell-off many of the closed school sites, according to the Save Our Schools group.

“Mr Hargreaves’ outrageous claims made in the Legislative Assembly and in the Chronicle this week indicate that he is prepared to plough ahead with plans to dispose of community assets while ignoring the strong message from the community that is now confirmed by his project consultants,” according to Save Our Schools spokesperson, Jane Tullis.

Despite the groundswell of community support to retain schools buildings and sites, Mr Hargreaves told the Assembly: ‘If the community suggests to the government – and there is very, very significant support for this – that the school building site is not required for community use generally and is not required to be cut up, if you wish, and some of it used for open space and some of it used for community tenancies, but in fact that the site should be sold, then the site will be sold at auction and the Territory will realise the best price it can for that particular site’ (ACT LA Hansard of September 27, 2007).

“Consultants, Purdon Associates, this week released workshop reports confirming the strongly-held community views that the Towards 2020 school closures were a mistake and provisions should be made to re-open schools now and in the future,” Mrs Tullis said. (See Options Workshops for Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Woden/Weston on Purdon Associates website – http://formerschoolsites.purdon.com.au/) About 250 people took part in these workshops late last month.)

On the issue of unmet needs, the consultant’s reports indicate: ‘the most frequent response to this question was that a major unmet need in the community is a local school.’ and ‘School facilities should be retained for community use as demographics change and there could be a need for the schools to be re-opened in the future’.

“While we have serious concerns about this consultation, it was gratifying to see the consultants outline the clear and consistent message that local schools are what is most needed now, and as demographics shift,” Mrs Tullis said.

The level of unity on this was remarkable when you consider that most of those taking part in the workshops were from ACT-wide interest groups, not just the affected communities. This level of support was echoed by a WIN TV newspoll showing 89% of people wanted to retain the schools for future use by the community.

Rather than heeding the strong community message, Mr Hargreaves has tried to shoot the messenger through ridiculous claims (in this week’s Northside Chronicle) that Save Our Schools ‘was no longer acting in the community’s best interests’ and is no longer a community voice because ‘now there are no schools to be a voice for’.

“Contrary to Mr Hargreaves claims, a significant number of public schools are still open despite the Government’s school closures and a number of schools and their communities are still fighting for their future,” Mrs Tullis said.

The Save Our Schools group continues to broaden its membership base and sphere of influence following its formation during the Towards 2020 school closures campaign. As well as standing up for ACT schools and communities, SOS has become a commentator on educational issues of national and international scope. “We have been contacted by many different individuals and organisations seeking help in understanding this consultancy process, as well as to express their support for our continued vigilance in seeking the very best public education system for our students, families and teachers,” said Mrs Tullis.

“A government aspiring to democratic principles would now recognise its mandate to re-open schools and keep all the schools and sites for community use. Save Our Schools has asked if there is any sound basis for the Government’s claim that only the equivalent of four school buildings can be retained – but no sound explanation for this has been provided so far,” according to Mrs Tullis.

“We hope that the Government will now see the sense in listening to the voice of the people and invest some of its budget surplus into re-opening schools and community facilities that meet the needs and help sustain local communities.”

Save our Schools encourages all concerned Canberrans to register for, and voice their views at, the community forums later this month to try to keep the government accountable in its stewardship of these community assets.

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