By Michael Giles
THERE’S an obscene example of the problems created by the uncoordinated funding of our schools, by State and Federal governments, right here in Bass Coast.
Next year, the already excellent Newhaven College will take its offering to students and parents to a whole new level when the school combines all years, Prep to Year 12, in a brand-spanking new campus, architecturally designed and attractively situated on a greenfield site in the middle of Phillip Island.
With construction well advanced on the latest stage, the next stage of development is already being planned – a two-court indoor stadium with “a huge gymnasium” and grandstand overlooking the oval.
Funds for these works come from Canberra.
Kids from right across the region, Wonthaggi and Inverloch included, already attend in large numbers, so local parents can’t help but compare what’s on offer at Newhaven with the facilities at the only State secondary college in the area, at Wonthaggi.
These facilities are provided by the State Government.
It’s an odious comparison.
Of course we’re not talking about the staff – there are highly dedicated, talented staff members at both schools. But the contrast in conditions could not be more marked, tragically underscored now by the disaster that was last week’s state budget.
It was a missed opportunity of epic proportions which might yet be put right. Of course, not everyone can afford the $8000-plus per year it costs to send a child to Newhaven, even if the school had the enrolment space.
Ultimately the majority still have to attend their local secondary college and it makes you sick to the stomach to think that Newhaven kids are getting a much better start in life than Wonthaggi Secondary College kids purely because of the facilities and the state versus federal funding divide.
Sure, kids can and still do reach their potential at WSC, whether that’s being made work-ready or ready for tertiary studies.
But the reality is that learning and working in a modern environment raises aspiration and retention levels, better preparing students to survive, feel comfortable and thrive in similar facilities at university or in the workplace.
On a whole lot of levels the new senior campus should have been funded this year.
• Student numbers in Year 12 at WSC jump up from 140 this year to 220-230 next year and for every year beyond that.
• The opportunity to add a $6 million, three-court sports stadium to the project via a genuine partnership between community and government was an enormous bonus.
• Bass Coast is already seeing some of the backwash from restructure in the Latrobe Valley and deserved support.
• The area is growing strongly, partly as an overflow from the rapid expansion of Casey shire (population 300,000), and school facilities are key.
• And there’s the inevitable comparisons with the new-look Newhaven College.
The knock we heard on the Wonthaggi project was that it was too big; at $22.7 million to $25 million it was the biggest on the Education Department’s priority list and easier for government to fund several small projects than one big one, we’re told.
But we don’t buy that.
It’s clear the decision was grossly political in nature.
And the State Government could easily have taken a leaf out of the Commonwealth Government’s book and funded it in stages… it still could. Here’s a workable solution.
The Andrews Government should immediately approve the application by the Bass Coast Shire Council and WSC to the Victorian School Building Authority’s 2017 Shared Facilities Fund, for the three-court stadium and promise funding to start the new senior campus next year.The sports stadium could be built in the meantime.
Wonthaggi Secondary College is determined to have their project ready to go out for tender later this year, so another way to fund it would be to activate this ‘shovel-ready’ project when, inevitably, other state-funded projects don’t go ahead as planned.
Either way, the Andrews Government’s failure to fund the WSC senior campus in this year’s budget needs to be reviewed, and it’s up to the only local Labor MPs in Gippsland, Harriet Shing and Daniel Mulino, to see that it happens.