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Going to school on education funding

Geoff Helisma |

It’s a mathematical shootout between NSW Labor and Nationals MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis.

Mr Gulaptis says the NSW Government has “wiped out Labor’s maintenance backlog” since taking government eight years ago.

New South Wales Labor Leader Michael Daley says the “Liberals-Nationals let the schools maintenance backlog grow by 335 per cent over the past eight years”.

Mr Gulaptis states in his media release: “Building on the massive extra funding from the Gonski deal, the Nationals in government have committed to recruiting a record 4,600 public school teachers over the next four years.

“On top of that the government has given itself just 15 months to end the backlog of maintenance work in all the state’s public schools.

“Less than a decade ago there was a staggering $1billion worth of long-term maintenance problems in our schools: broken tiles, holes in fences, peeling paint and cracked windows all contributed to make children feel undervalued and subtly dissuaded them from giving their best effort.”

Mr Daley makes a similar statement in his media release: “…for eight years, large numbers of NSW schoolchildren have been learning in classrooms with peeling paint, broken windows and leaky roofs, among other backlogged repair work.”

Mr Daley contends: “Government documents obtained by Labor … reveal that during [the past eight years] the average maintenance backlog had risen to $242,000 per school.

“The Government’s own media release from 2012 shows the maintenance backlog in 2011 was $156million.”

The Independent hassighted then education minister Adrian Piccoli’s media release, which stated: “After 16 years, Labor left NSW schools with a $156million maintenance backlog and another $798million in infrastructure backlogs.”

Labor contends that Mr Gulaptis has combined these two figures to come up with the “$1billion worth of long term maintenance problems”.

The Audit Office (AO) of NSW’s Education 2018 financial audit states: “The Department is working with the NSW Treasury to develop various strategies to respond to maintenance issues in school facilities.

“Commencing in 2017–18, the government agreed that the maintenance obligation of the Department’s schools at the end of any given year should not exceed three per cent of the asset replacement value.

“The NSW Treasury has agreed to this benchmark and will fund the Department into the future accordingly.

“At 30 June 2018, the Department estimated the maintenance obligation for school facilities at $679 million. “This is well below the benchmark set of three per cent of the asset replacement value which equated to $1.0 billion.”

In his media release, Mr Daley states: “We will spend the $1.3 billion needed to wipe out the maintenance backlog to zero….”

Meanwhile, the education department “spent $850 million on capital projects in 2017–18, which was $23.0 million more than budgeted”, the AO report states.

“The Department advised that the capital overspend was mainly due to higher spending on school-funded capital works.”

Looking to the future, assuming a Coalition government is re-elected, Mr Gulaptis said: “There has already been huge progress and, in a little over 12 months’ time, schools won’t have to go cap in hand and wait to fix basic problems with their infrastructure.

“It’s going to be cooler to be at school with Clarence and Richmond Valley schools getting more aircon, starting with warmer inland schools before moving to the coast.”