Minister Refuses to Divulge Savings Figures

The Education Minister, Andrew Barr, continues to deny important data to school communities. He has refused to provide detailed data on school costs and savings for each individual school proposed for closure or amalgamation. In effect, the Minister’s refusal and stated reasons for not supplying the data demonstrates that the Government’s school closure plan is based on incomplete and inadequate data.

This data was requested by the Estimates Committee of the Legislative Assembly. It had asked for individual school costs and savings for teaching staff, other staff, utilities, grounds and maintenance, consumables, cleaning and other.

In his formal response to the Estimates Committee, the Minister stated that detailed cost and savings data for individual schools is not available in his Department and that the Department does not have the resources available to calculate the figures. In other words, the Government didn’t have this information when it devised its school closure plan.

School communities need this more detailed data so as to consider what other savings are possible in their school and to prepare alternatives to closing their school. If the Minister is serious about calling on school communities to suggest other options, then he needs to provide them with the necessary detailed data to do this. Otherwise, the consultation is a sham and a smokescreen.

All the Minister has provided so far is some broad cost and savings data for salaries and school-based management funds. This data raises more questions than it resolves.

There are inconsistencies in the salary figures between schools of similar size. There are also issues about the extent of enrolment-based costs that are carried over to other schools as students move location. The Department has adopted a formula based approach of carrying over $200 per student. This is inadequate because it does not allow for substantive differences between schools. It also appears to be an under-estimate of the enrolment based costs and, thus, over-states that savings that will be made.

The Government has to do better than this. The detailed figures should be provided for public scrutiny. It denies parents the opportunity to look at the details for their school, to seen how things could be done better and to propose different options to reduce costs and make savings.

In addition, to refusing to provide detailed cost and savings data to the Estimates Committee, the Minister also refused to fulfil his obligations under the Education Act. It is a requirement of the Education Act that the Minister must have regard to the financial, educational and social impact of closing schools on students, their families and on school communities. However, he refused a request from the Estimates Committee to state what factors will be taken into account in this assessment.

School communities have not been given any guidance by the Department of Education on what matters will be considered. The Department has not undertaken any surveys to collect information on the financial, educational and social impact of school closures.

It is clear that the Government intends to ignore its obligations under the Act. It showed this last year in its consultation around the super-school in W.Belconnen. The Department’s consultation report on the super-school fails to provide a systematic assessment of the financial, educational and social costs of the proposed closure of several pre-schools and primary schools in order to establish the super-school.

Trevor Cobbold

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