Bungling the future: selling schools to developers
The NSW Minister for Education, John Aqualina, has been caught out with documents coming to light showing that the department had real estate valuations done on the 11 schools selected for closure in Sydney's valuable eastern suburbs and inner west at least 6 months before making public the plans for closure. As proof that the government has only ever been interested in the money to be reaped from the sale of the land real estate valuations are based on private development for medium density housing, not public housing, open space or other community use. Some of the comments in the valuations include "Hunters Hill is one of Sydney's prestigious waterfront suburbs" and "Marrickville is one of Sydney's popular inner western suburbs" and Vaucluse is "considered to be good building land and obtains views to the east over Diamond Bay and the Pacific Ocean as well as suburban views over the surrounding district and possibly some harbour views to the north." The government claims the schools are being sold because of falling enrolments at all these schools and little or no prospect of growth in these areas. In the case of Hunters Hill high school the P & C have commissioned a study by Macquarie University demographer, Dr. Nick Parr, which shows strong anticipated growth for school aged children in the Hunters Hill catchment area over the next decade. It fills a need that cannot be met in the local area if it were to close and it has been academically successful with 13 places in the honours list of the 2000 HSC. On the other hand, the state government has seen fit to hand out $500,000, no questions asked, to St. Josephs College, a private catholic school on 16 ha of land just around the corner from Hunters Hill high school. The money is for a new building programme but surely the Catholic church, one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, could fund this building project or alternatively St Josephs could sell off some of its 16 ha of land to finance its own projects instead of the public. There is no proof that the government ever conducted research into demographic trends before the valuations. The community consultation process turned out to be a farce when Aqualina said that the sales were to go ahead regardless of the wishes of the local communities. Federally, neither Liberal or Labor show any interest in public education. Both parties voted down a motion proposed by Green senator, Bob Brown, to lift the public education expenditure to the OECD average by 2004.