Concern over 40pc drop in
bricks-and-mortar budget

Sue Simpson
Research Officer

This year's capital works budget was down $21m.

Federation is calling on the political parties to lift investment in public school capital works and maintenance, with capital works spending today and in the five preceding years being 40 per cent behind the 2009 allocation.

The 2011 Gonski review into schools funding found too many public schools were run down, with this affecting school morale and the ability of public schools to compete with private schools. Private schools invested far more heavily in school buildings and infrastructure.

The review called for more government investment in public school infrastructure.

Capital expenditure has, however, been at least 40 per cent less than its peak of $780 billion (excluding Building the Education Revolution funding) under Labor in 2009–10, each financial year under the Coalition Government. The 2014–15 Budget’s $400 million allocation for public school capital expenditure was a $21m cut on the previous year’s budget.

The NSW Auditor-General recently found there was a $548m backlog in public school maintenance.

A Department of Education and Communities (DEC) submission to NSW Infrastructure, the body with planning needs oversight, estimates the capital and land costs of another 6250 classrooms to accommodate a 23 per cent increase in students in public schools over the next 15 years would be $8.25bn in today’s dollars.

NSW Infrastructure criticised the DEC for being too conservative in its approach to school size and class size.

“New models of schooling need to be developed that entail building larger schools on smaller sites, with a heavy focus on the redevelopment of existing sites to minimise land acquisition costs,” NSW Infrastructure said.

This means larger schools in urban areas, more buildings on existing sites, more intense use of sites through staggered starting times and partnerships with developers for high-rise schools. Small regional schools could be closed, with more shared facilities with “other education providers and local councils”.

Last year, the Baird Government released a plan to spend $1bn over 10 years to build new schools, refurbish existing schools and upgrade technology.

The funding is, however, conditional on the 49 per cent lease of electricity poles and wires, and in any event $1bn over 10 years falls a good way short of the DEC’s estimate of expenditure and public expectations of the look and facilities of public schools.

So far in the election campaign, the ALP has committed to an additional $100m over 10 years to replace ageing demountables with permanent, air-conditioned classrooms. It is opposed to electricity privatisation.

The Greens’ analysis of the school finances of elite private schools contained on the My School website demonstrates that the value of federal and state recurrent funding is being diverted to new buildings and debt servicing of capital loans.

While inner Sydney needs new schools St Catherine’s at Waverley has submitted a development application for an aquatic centre, a new state-of-the art professional grade lyric theatre and a new research centre costed at $62m. New public schools could be built from these funds.

The Greens’ analysis shows 62 wealthy NSW private schools receive a total of $270m in federal and state recurrent funding — money that could be better spent in public schools.

Rebuilding NSW: State Infrastructure Strategy 2014 was released in November 2014 as part of the Baird Government’s re-election campaign.