Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Support Growing for Rally

Support is growing for a rally to be held tomorrow outside South Australia’s Parliament House against cuts to education.

The cuts, introduced in last year’s state Budget, are dressed up as “efficiency dividends” and were praised by Standard and Poor’s when they blessed State Treasurer Foley’s latest Budget, delivered a week ago, with a triple-A rating.

The latest budget was noted by what Foley, a Labor Treasurer, was pleased to call “the biggest reduction in payroll tax in South Australia’s history.”

Typical! Public education paying for a big business windfall.

I covered part of this in a May post: “Schools face Extra Costs, Ministers Get Extra Minders”.

Principals are desperately trying to quantify the cots of the ‘efficiency dividends” to their schools but there are so many variables that it seems they are finding it hard to make a confident prediction: two high schools with similar (approx. 1150) enrolments have estimates of $153,000 per year and $189,400 per year.

Although they are correct in their opposition to the cuts, and are cooperating with the Australian Education Union over the issue, the principals are pretty much hoist on their own petard (from the French petard to break wind; a small bomb made of a metal or wooden box filled with powder, used to blow in a door or make a hole in a wall).

They were generally enthusiastic in their embrace of “local school management” when it was introduced some years ago. This saw the transfer of some operational responsibility to schools and puffed the egos of those who aspired to be bosses over, rather than colleagues of, teaching and non-teaching staff in schools.

In particular, schools were given a “global budget” so that salaries, water and power costs etc were passed on to the school and managed by the principal and the bursar/finance officer.

Essentially, the Education Department washed its hands of a whole lot of work, passed that down the line to the schools, and tickled the principals under the chin by telling them how important they were as “leaders”.

Now they’re finding that their “global budgets” aren’t worth a pinch of the proverbial, that they don’t have a voice when it comes to the crunch with the bean-counters, and they they’ve got to... shudder... work with the union to try and clear up the mess.

Let’s look at their recent track record in the context of passing costs onto schools. The principals associations “negotiated” with the Department a few months ago over the question of advertising principal positions nationally. No-one wants to be a principal these days it seems, “quality” candidates are lacking locally.

Now, you’d think the principals would want to keep open career paths for local educators, and at the very least they and the Department would ask teachers why they no longer want to take up principal positions, and do something to address the problem.

But they got sucked into the idea of advertising in the bigger, national market place.

Fair enough, but wouldn’t you think that somewhere in these negotiations, the principal association representatives would have asked “Who pays for national advertising when a school needs to advertise for a new principal?”

No, they’ve got such a cozy relationship with the Department that it never occurred to them! And now they find out that it is the school, not the employer (ie the Department) which picks up the tab.

Local school management has afforded the Department a mechanism for cutting its own expenditure at the expense of schools. The biggest component of the two figures quoted above is the WorkCover (workers compensation) levy of 1% of a school’s salary allocation.

Schools shouldn’t have to fund and manage the operation of the employer’s liability for WorkCover - it’s the employer’s responsibility! And the Department has a lousy record for WorkCover claims and poor Occupational Health and Safety.

But now it’s the school’s responsibility, and staff will have to negotiate WorkCover claims with their principals who have a direct incentive for keeping their staff off WorkCover – they get 0.6 of the 1 percent rebate back if there are no claims.

And they wonder why no self-respecting teacher wants to be a principal these days!

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