School Closure Figures in Tatters

The Save Our Schools group says that the two weeks of school closure consultations and the Budget Estimates hearings have shown that the Government’s figures are in tatters.

SOS spokesperson, Dr. Ian Morgan, said that the Stanhope Government has failed to make critical savings data available and it has been forced to admit that other figures are fundamentally flawed and now has to revise them.

“After sustained questioning by SOS, the Minister for Education finally released some information last week on the average savings from the school closures. However, he consistently refuses to respond to requests to provide the detailed estimates of savings for each school slated for closure. This information is critical to the Government’s case, and the continued failure to make it public makes a farce of the consultation process.

“The Government’s school capacity figures and per capita school cost figures have been shown to be flawed. This means that it has made decisions on the basis of faulty data, and has therefore failed to sustain its case for school closures.

“The Minister has been forced to admit that many of the figures on excess capacity are out-of-date, and were not systematically up-dated prior to making the budget decisions on school closures. Numerous school communities have successfully challenged the official figures.

“The Minister has also been forced to admit that the per capita cost figures for each school are fundamentally flawed – because the per capita costs for many small schools are inflated by the high per capita costs of the units for students with special needs. At Estimates, the Department of Education admitted that it will take some time to do the calculations properly.

“Some of the enrolment figures in the Towards 2020 documents are also clearly wrong. For example, over 300 students seem to go missing in North Canberra as Dickson College and Campbell High are amalgamated. In this case, the disappearance is convenient, because it means that the students will fit into the capacity at Campbell High, without the need to build new facilities for 300 students. And over 250 students go missing in North West Belconnen in one of the models.”

Dr. Morgan said that the Minister has failed to provide the detailed estimates of savings from school closures available for public scrutiny.

“He has been repeatedly asked to publish the methodology and the school-by-school analysis. For most of the consultation period, all the community has had is a one-line budget figure – with no justification or explanation given. Only in the last few days has he provided the average savings per primary school and high school.”

“The Minister should provide the detailed breakdown of the savings estimates for each school proposed for closure. Each school community should be given the savings estimates for principals, other staff, maintenance, school consumables, electricity, water and sewerage, telecommunications, waste collection, etc.

“There is no excuse for the continued delay. If the analysis has been carried out, as it should have been prior to making decisions, then the methodology and savings figures should be readily available. It should take only a matter of minutes to put them on the internet.

•Are we therefore to conclude that the analysis has never been done properly?

•Or is the Minister concerned that the methodology and figures will not stand up to detailed public scrutiny?

Dr. Morgan said that the Estimates hearings have also revealed that the Minister and his Department have failed to carry out a full analysis of the impacts of the closures.

“The Education Department has apparently not attempted to estimate flows of students into the private sector as a result of the school closures. And, despite repeated claims that its wants to attract parents to enroll their children in government schools, it has not attempted to analyse the reasons why parents shift to the private sector.

“At Estimates, the Department of Education admitted that it does not have a systematic approach to collecting this data, and that what data exists would have to be collated from individual schools!

“In other words, the Stanhope Government has not done its homework prior to making decisions. Even Labor back-benchers are backing community calls for more information.

“The Stanhope Government has clearly failed the test of its own amendments to the Education Act. It has failed to provide the information that the community needs and that the Education Act requires in a timely and accessible way to ensure effective community consultation. Instead, we have been provided with nothing more than rhetoric and spin for the last two weeks.

“This would be an appalling performance for any government. But, for the Stanhope Government, which has so often talked about its commitment to informed public debate and consultation, the obvious reluctance to make critical data available has many people asking what the Stanhope Government has to hide.”

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