Savings from school closures overstated

The Government’s estimates of savings from closing 39 schools are over-stated.

The Minister for Education has recently admitted to several additional costs that will be incurred by closing schools and which have not been offset against the savings estimates.

The Minister’s admissions were made in response to questions by the Estimates Committee of the Legislative Assembly.

These additional costs include:
•Duplication of special education facilities in other schools;
•Purchase of new demountable classrooms and/or the transfer and installation of existing demountables;
•Refurbishment works in schools that will receive additional students.

The Minister has admitted that there will be additional costs involved in order to duplicate the special Learning Support Unit at Rivett PS on another location.

Similar additional costs will also be incurred in duplicating other Learning Support Units in schools slated for closure at other schools. There are Learning Support Units at Holt PS, Melrose PS, Mt. Neighbour PS, Kambah HS and Dickson College.

However, the Department of Education has not yet undertaken the planning for the re-location of these units nor has it estimated the cost of replacing them. These new units will involve significant additional costs which should be offset against the savings estimates from closing schools.

The Minister has admitted that the Department of Education may have to purchase additional transportable classrooms in order to implement the school closure plan. Some schools may be over-capacity as a result of students transferring to new schools of choice and the Department will have to purchase and install demountable classrooms in order to ensure parents are given their choice of school.

The Minister stated that the estimated average cost for the purchase of a new transportable is $200,000. In addition, there are installation costs such as preparing the site, air conditioning, footpaths and landscaping, IT cabling and provision of furniture. The cost of transporting and installing an existing demountable is about $200, 000. These costs have not been taken into account in the Government’s savings estimates.

The Minister has also admitted under questioning that a range of general refurbishment works will take place in the schools that receive additional students. These refurbishments may include building renovations, new furniture, additional or upgraded playgrounds, new IT equipment and additional car parking space.

The Minister said that these works will be funded from the School Infrastructure Refurbishment funding announced in the 2006-07 Budget. However, these additional costs have not been offset against the Government’s savings estimates from school closures.

In addition, the savings estimates include ongoing costs to the Government that should not be counted as part of the savings from closing schools. The figures include expenditure on maintenance and security that would otherwise be incurred in the schools proposed for closure. However, responsibility for the maintenance of the closed buildings and grounds will be transferred to the Department of Territory and Municipal Services. Ongoing maintenance and security costs will be incurred until such a time as the buildings are rented or sold. Indeed, these costs could well increase if the buildings remain vacant for a considerable period.

The Minister’s answers to questioning by the Estimates Committee thus reveal some significant costs which require an adjustment to the savings estimates from school closures. The Minister should publish a revised set of savings estimates.

Trevor Cobbold

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