‘Little reprieve’ for schools

Latrobe Valley’s most disadvantaged schools have missed out on extra maintenance funds, despite a statewide maintenance audit funding parts of them were in “poor condition”.

Local schools received ‘school condition assessment reports’ this week following a maintenance audit of 27,000 buildings conducted last year by a State Government-appointed contractor.

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe claimed Victoria faced a “$420 million maintenance backlog left by the previous government”.

The government announced an extra $51.5 million to “repair, rebuild or replace every government school building in poor condition” but there was little reprieve for Valley schools, with Moe’s Baringa Special School the only one to secure funding.

This comes after the Valley’s three state secondary colleges joined forces in February to lobby the State Government over the impact of multiple cuts to school programs and their ongoing battle to offset shortfalls in maintenance budgets.

Providing State Education Minister Martin Dixon with damning reports detailing stretched maintenance budgets, particularly at Kurnai College and Traralgon Secondary College campuses, local principals warned they consistently spent more “on maintenance and mandatory inspections than the government gives us”.

With maintenance budget shortfalls rising sharply in recent years and schools forced to spend most of their budget on “reactive maintenance”, principals urged the minister to step in.

This week, while learning they were not on a list of 250 Victorian schools deemed “most in need” of extra funds, the secondary colleges also received a response from Mr Dixon maintaining the government’s stance on existing funding and program cuts.

The Express obtained a copy of the minister’s letter which refers to the government’s need to make “tough decisions” given the “waste and mismanagement of the previous Labor government”, and defends cuts to VCAL co-ordination funding and Education Maintenance Allowance changes.

Kurnai College secondary principal Anthony Rodaughan warned “no-one would accept the cuts implemented (had been) implemented in a fair or equitable manner.”

This week he told The Express the school’s Community VCAL program, run in conjunction with Fusion, had to close and the disengaged students it catered for were “no longer in the system”.

“We don’t see these kids now… if they get to the end of the system they just stop coming and we can’t follow up with them because we don’t have a VCAL coordinator,” he said.

“The kids have fallen through the cracks and again, it is the most vulnerable who are being hit, which really puzzles us.”

Kurnai’s ‘school condition’ report identified a “whole range of areas in the lowest category (of condition), being poor”, Mr Rodaughan said, “so we are disappointed there is no funding for that.”

Kurnai’s Morwell campus has had to close several times in the recent years due to water, sewerage and electricity faults.

“It is a big drain on our budget just to make it a safe environment, let alone making it an attractive environment for kids to learn,” he said, adding “it is hard to imagine how bad some of the other schools must be if we don’t qualify”.

TSC principal Paul van Breugel shared those concerns, saying early consideration of his school’s report showed the “cosmetics and functioning of the building are OK – for example, the toilets flush”, but “the foundations and external walls are not in great condition”.

“I do understand the need for prioritising but we are going to need significant work in the very near future…I am certainly disappointed that there is nothing in the immediate future for our school,” he said.

Baringa principal Rosie Romano said she believed her school would receive around $47,000 to help repair roof covering, gutters and eaves at its secondary wing, which were in such a state of disrepair “our gutters overflow in heavy rain and water comes into some classrooms”.

She said the additional sum would only meet “certain aspects of our maintenance needs,” adding “we have a huge maintenance list, this is just for the very worst of it”.

Australian Education Union Gippsland organiser Jeff Gray said news Kurnai and TSC had missed out on extra funds was “a massive disappointment”.

“There has been a very strong case mounted that the money they get for maintenance is woeful, absolutely pitiful, and they have huge issues… what they do receive is spent just trying to fix problems that can’t really be fixed,” he said.

Mr Northe said the $51.5 million was an “initial response” to the audit and the State Government would “continue to make investments in school capital and maintenance”.

“To date our first two budgets have invested $408 million in school capital funding and an additional $100 million in school maintenance, beginning in 2011 over four years,” he added.