Capital funding

27/03/2015

Response to Ross Gittins’ Sydney Morning Herald column on capital funding to Catholic schools

Government schools bursting at the seams have become regular media stories in recent weeks.

In the lead-up to Saturday’s election it is no surprise to find those seeking to form the next NSW Government promising more than $1 billion on top of current capital expenditure, including new government schools in Sydney ($60m), Parramatta ($100m), Ballina ($30m), Warnervale ($40m) and elsewhere.

Yet these schools are only the tip of the iceberg of increased demand.

The NSW Government forecasts that by 2031 there will be 23% more students in NSW schools than at present.

Catholic school authorities are facing the same rapid demand increase and for the same reasons: consolidation of medium-density family housing and annually increasing birth-rates, especially in the inner Sydney area and the north-west and south-west growth areas.

On Wednesday 25 March, SMH Economics Editor Ross Gittins queried the need for capital funding for new Catholic school places, but overlooked several key points.

In 2012, the NSW Government cut its overall capital funding support for Catholic schools.

Despite enrolments rising by 10,000 since then (enough for 12 secondary schools), NSW Government capital funding to Catholic schools for new projects in 2014 was just $7.6 million – less than it was in 2011.

Over the past three years, the Catholic schools sector received just $21.8 million in capital funding support for new projects from the NSW Government – enough for half a secondary school.

But this amount was virtually cancelled out by the $21.3 million paid by the Catholic sector over the same period to local councils and state-owned utilities in infrastructure charges. Such charges are not levied on new Government schools.

In 2014, NSW Catholic school authorities sought funding assistance for 39 projects totalling $119 million. Only 18 projects could be part-funded from the combined Federal and State Government capital grants assistance provided ($34.6 million) The schools that missed out have to borrow even more or apply again the following year.

The majority of funding for new Catholic school places, however, comes from parents helping repay loans directly or through levies or other private fund-raising activities, as they have done for generations. We are not seeking to change that – but we are looking to the NSW Government reducing the pressure on parents at a crucial time.

With enrolments already growing rapidly, future NSW Governments are being asked to support Catholic school parents to the same extent previous Governments have done.

Mr Gittins’ suggestion that Catholic schools authorities might use Government funds to build classrooms in areas where they are not needed is nonsensical.

Sydney’s apartment boom is putting pressure on existing schools in established suburbs.

This year, for example, Sydney’s Catholic Education Office opened a new school in North Strathfield and is already planning another in nearby Mortlake to open in 2017 to cope with accelerating demand.

In Sydney’s south-west, our new primary and secondary schools are approaching capacity to years ahead of schedule.

Catholic Education Commission NSW is merely pointing out that the NSW Government will need to start increasing its capital funding for schools substantially and to budget to incur even higher costs if Government schools have to enrol a significantly greater proportion of students than they currently do.

Catholic schools and their graduates have been contributing to the development of this state since 1820. Over a quarter of students in NSW Catholic school communities are from non-Catholic families, while the fastest growing enrolments continue to be students with a disability and indigenous students. The demand for Catholic school places is not forecast to diminish.

Brian Croke
Executive Director
Catholic Education Commission NSW

Sydney Morning Herald, Letters, 26 March 2015

Most Rev Peter Comensoli DD
Most Rev Peter Comensoli DD, Bishop of Broken Bay.

Ross Gittins wonders: "Who's to say those non-government groups will want to build their additional facilities in those locations where the population growth occurs?" ("A cross you should not have to bear", March 25).

One in four Australians are Catholic; they live in the inner city, the suburbs and in developing areas alike.

And yes, I admit, I do beam every time a new or expanded Catholic school is opened.

The problem is this simply doesn't occur often enough, despite the $150 million Catholic parents contribute to school building funds in NSW each year.

To provide some perspective, the $7.6 million currently contributed by the NSW government does little more than cover the development costs imposed by local councils.

The 44 Catholic systemic schools in Broken Bay alone educate over 17,000 students. Are they to become a "cross" for the public school system to bear?

Peter Comensoli Bishop of Broken Bay

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