On Monday 17 September over one hundred parents, school support staff, teachers and principals gathered at a community forum in Penrith to condemn the government cuts to public education.
The guest speaker was Maurie Mulheron, a former school principal and current president of the Teachers Federation. He told the forum that no-one should have been surprised by the O’Farrell Government’s announcement to slash $1.7 billion from the education budget and cut 1800 jobs.
Mr Mulheron said: “We said on 11 March, when the Premier announced Local Schools, Local Decisions, that this will rip out of the system $400 million in recurrent funding each and every year and thousands of teaching positions and non-teaching positions will go.”
“We were called liars. We were called scaremongers. All the Premier has done is confirmed what we have been saying.”
Mr Mulheron reaffirmed comments made in the media by the former general manager of finance and administration in the Department of Education, Ken Dixon. Mr Dixon told the Sydney Morning Herald (Friday 14 September) that “the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy is just a formula to pull funding from schools over time.”
Mr Mulheron said: “Whatever marketing term they can come up with, it is essentially a conservative economic theory designed to break-up, fragment and rip out funding from public systems. That’s all it is. That’s all it was ever designed to do.”
The forum was also addressed by the President of the Nepean Teachers Association, Paul Lang, the President of Jamisontown Public School P&C, Jo Jacobson and the School Administrative Manager from Blaxland High School, Mary Court.
Mr Lang provided an overview of some of the impacts that the cost-cutting agenda was already having on teaching and learning in school communities in outer western Sydney.
Mr Lang said: “We know that some schools have lost teacher allocation and money under Every Student Every School, that very few schools have enough allocation to address the needs of children with Autism, and that some schools have lost teachers aide support.”
“We also know that every Learning and Support Teacher is in the process of trying to become the expert in every area of special education, without any regional expertise to draw upon.”
“Under these policies, at least one local school with high needs students has already lost significant Learning and Support Teacher allocation and about $30 000 in teachers aide funding.”
Ms Jacobson said: “Our P&C recently met with our local state member regarding the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy.”
“The unequivocal message received from MP Ayres was that the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy had nothing to do with educational outcomes. It is not about improving or ensuring our students receive a fair and high quality education, or empowering school communities. It is all about economic cuts which in turn cut to the bone of our children’s education.”
Mary Court provided a ‘front office’ perspective on the cuts to education. The Premier’s announcement included the loss of 400 frontline school administrative support staff, though media reports suggested that an additional 1200 positions may be cut.
Ms Court said: “What happens when a balloon is squeezed at one end? It creates more pressure at the other. Staff cuts are like this. They create a loss of corporate knowledge and memory, severe skill shortages and ultimately a loss of faith in public education through a reduction in frontline services.”
“The destruction of these services for students, for parents, for the school and the broader community is a disgrace.”
The day following the community forum, the Teachers Federation announced that it will be launching community protest action to oppose the cuts to public education, including a Community Day of Action on a weekend during Term 4, 2012, in Sydney and in major regional centres.