Call for parents to lobby over funding cuts

 NSW Opposition leader John Robertson wants Blue Mountains parents to lobby the State Government over the $1.7billion education funding cuts.

Job cuts are expected in ESL (English as a second language) and the roll-out of teacher training for the new curriculum next year was under threat, he said.

Class sizes would also increase in public schools and Catholic and independent schools would be forced to raise fees anywhere from $100 to $500 per child, he added.

Mother of six, Leonie Orme, 36 said she had chosen  Blaxland East for the extra curricular programs.

“My son Christopher has learning difficulties — he gets minimal help for that and that is probably threatened, but what he really enjoys is his western Sydney concert band and the co-ordinator is very concerned about the cuts that might be coming.”

NSW Education minister Adrian Piccoli said the NSW Government had to make tough decisions to ensure the state “lives within its means”.

Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage has vowed to lobby on behalf her constituents.

Springwood mother-of-four, Ann-Marie Gordon wasn’t happy when she opened her son’s school bag last week to go through the usual batch of school news.

Inside was a three page letter outlining a potential school fee increase of up to $500 - brought about by “out of the blue” NSW Government funding cuts.

Mrs Gordon said with all sorts of expenses on the rise, such as electricity, she would struggle to pay any increased fees at her sons Kye and Troy’s school, St Columba’s High School.

“If you’re putting everything into your children’s lives it hits  hard,”she said.

“Education is crucial — what kind of damage is this going to do in the future? It’s  detrimental to society. How much money has gone into government advertising? They should cut that.”

While it would not necessarily make the Gordons change their voting patterns — “We would get rid of one bunch of clowns for another” — they might consider moving interstate.

“NSW is turning into the most expensive state, the government is not keeping a cap on electricity and other utilities,” said her husband Tony.

Catholic schools will be hit with a $116 million cut over the next four years and government schools will be hit with a $201 million cut in the same period. Funding for independent schools is to be frozen instead of being cut $67 million a year and TAFE fees will rise by 9.5 per cent. The figures add up to $1.7 billion state-wide.

NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli said the NSW Government had to make tough decisions to ensure the state “lives within its means”.

But the Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron called the education cuts the “most dramatic in the history of NSW,” meaning the loss of front office staff.

“Parents should be angered . . . almost every school will suffer cuts in this area.”

The Public Service Association’s president, Sue Walsh, said teachers would “have to carry more of the workload, without any extra time and resources”.

Stung by a community backlash, Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage was among the Coalition MPs who lobbied the premier and the education minister to reconsider big cuts to school funding. While the cuts originally announced (to independent schools) have now been scrapped Mrs Sage is continuing to lobby “and should the economy improve the cap will be lifted”.

St Columba’s principal Delma Horan said the decision had been “made without consultation after we have made significant budgetary decisions for 2013”.

A Catholic Education Commission spokesperson said the funding cut had come “when Catholic school authorities and all Australian governments are exploring ways of increasing, not decreasing, government investment in all schools”.

“The recent Gonski report on funding for all Australian students relied upon Commonwealth and State governments negotiating in good faith. Unfortunately, this NSW government decision erodes its credibility in such negotiations. It also repudiates the public positions of both the Commonwealth Government and the federal ppposition that no school — government or non-government — will be worse off financially from 2014.”

Stephen O’Doherty, the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, told Fairfax the four-year funding freeze for non-government schools took no account of inflation or future enrolment growth.

“There’s no doubt that down the track it will feed into fee increases [and] it will put teacher salary increases under threat,” he said.

State-wide a total of 1800 jobs will go — bureaucrats, public school administration staff and TAFE teachers.

Independent Education Union secretary John Quessy claimed the non-government school community would cut between 700 and 1000 jobs.

Blue Mountains Labor spokesperson Trish Doyle said every Mountains parent should be concerned by the news.

“Every school teacher, parent and school in the Mountains will be affected because of these unprecedented funding cuts by Barry O’Farrell.

“It is impossible to make a 1.7billion cut to education without affecting class sizes, school fees and standards in Blue Mountains schools. I know as a teacher how devastating these cuts will be for all children.”

Ms Doyle said she was particularly concerned for funding towards some of the “neediest local kids . . . students with special needs”.

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