Budget shock

By Simon Ruppert

Employees at Benalla P-12 College have been told a proposed budget cut of more than $1.5million would lead to staff cuts, program cuts and increased class sizes.

The staff were told at a meeting last week.

State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan said she had been contacted by several P-12 staff members voicing their concern, and The Ensign has also been contacted anonymously about the meeting, which took place on Monday night.

However, Education Minister James Merlino’s office has denied there will be any cuts, but said there would be a review of the school’s funding formula following the closure of its Barkly St campus.

The Ensign is also in possession of an email sent by principal Tony Clarke to P-12 staff asking the ‘‘information presented in the meeting be treated as classified’’.

Mr Clarke was approached for comment but declined, referring The Ensign to the Education Department.

‘‘Any claim we are cutting funding from Benalla P-12 College is completely untrue,’’ Mr Merlino said.

‘‘We have already made a commitment to invest a further $12million at the school to transform its tired old facilities with a new STEAM building, a new science block and demolition works.

‘‘Just two months ago I visited the school to officially open its $9.1 million redevelopment and am working closely with the Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes to ensure the school receives the investment it needs.’’

Ms Ryan said she saw that statement as a case of the minister using technical language to mislead.

‘‘Basically they are saying it is not a cut, but the funding formula is based on the number of campuses the school operates,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘And because the school would have received money for the Barkly St campus, due to its closure, it will now receive less.’’

The Ensign has contacted the minister’s office to ask if this is the case, however, no reply has been received prior to publication.

One thing we do know is several Benalla P-12 staff have been saying they were told there would be a reduced budget for next year.

Whether it is described as a budget cut or a reduced budget, if this is true, it will leave a black hole where 10 per cent of the money the school was expecting has been sucked into.

Regardless of the closure of Barkly St, there has been no real reduction in the number of students.

Just before going to press The Ensign was contacted by another teacher who was concerned about the cuts, he asked to remain anonymous.

‘‘We were told that $1.67million would be cut next year,’’ the teacher said.

‘‘We were told that the funding cuts would need to come across all campuses, not just the senior school.

‘‘It is estimated that means 16 staff would have to be let go.

‘‘We were told that would mean larger class sizes and some subjects could not be run.

‘‘So far (the principal) has said no-one will be sacked, but there are staff on contracts that might not have them renewed.

‘‘My understanding... is that amalgamating the campuses was pitched as being beneficial for students.

‘‘The questions was asked if there would be any detrimental effects on the school and the answer was no.’’

If there is a plus side to this situation it is that the school has been told it can still enrol students via the Barclay St Campus, meaning the reduced budget won’t come into effect until the start of the new school year.

‘‘We can’t afford to look the other way while the... (state) government cuts the school’s budget,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘Increased class sizes with fewer teachers will only serve to entrench the disadvantage this community has worked so hard to change.

‘‘The Benalla community has worked together for years now to give local children the best access to opportunities and to improve student outcomes.

‘‘It is gut-wrenching for teachers to now be told resources will be stripped away.

‘‘Sixty per cent of students at Benalla (P-12) College are disadvantaged, more than two and a half times the average Australian school.

‘‘(Benalla P-12 College) needs more funding, and more specialist teachers and programs to address this disadvantage.’’

Ms Ryan also said if the budget was being reduced because of the closure of the Barkly St Campus this was not something discussed with parents, teachers or the community when the closure was originally floated.

‘‘That was never discussed with the community,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘They were never told closing the campus would lead to a 10 to 12 per cent reduction in the school budget.’’

In a letter sent to The Ensign a person who described themselves as the partner of a Benalla P-12 teacher said the whole school was in shock.

‘‘When the amalgamation into Benalla P-12 was first put forward it was sold with the students being the main beneficiary,’’ the letter read.

‘‘And now the latest announcement to staff in this education revolution in Benalla is, as the old high school is now closed and all secondary students have been relocated to the Faithful St campus, the new funding model will see Benalla P-12 eligible for $1.5million less than last year.

‘‘This can only mean fewer teachers and larger class sizes for our children.’’