Kennett takes knife to schools

Issue 

By Peter Boyle

MELBOURNE — The Kennett government anounced on November 20 that it would close 56 state schools, abolish 4000 teaching positions, sack 3760 school cleaners and 830 administrative staff.

Among the schools closing is Ardoch-Windsor Secondary College, which has the largest program for homeless students in Australia, and Northland Secondary College which has Melbourne's largest Aboriginal student community and was described as a role model by the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.

Brian Henderson, president of the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association, vowed that his members would "continue to take industrial action not just for the remainder of this year but for aas long as it takes into next year to get the government to sit down and negotiate with the teacher unions for acceptable arrangements".

Peter Lord, president of the Federated Teachers Union of Victoria, said that the Kennett government had "ripped the heart out of the state school situation". Both teachers unions have organised strikes and rallies on everyday in the week begining November 23. Teachers in each education region in the state will strike for half a day on a different day during the week. But education minister Don Hayward has instructed principals to lock out striking teachers for the full day and bring in parents and hired strike breakers to replace them. Hayward was formerly a director of General Motors-Holden.

The government is offering a $350 "incentive" to students in the schools to be closed if they re-enroll in another school by December 4. The unions described this as a bribe.

The government plans to follow the NSW example in making state schools more independent by giving principals the power top hire and fire staff and contract for services like cleaning. The Victorian Certificate of Education is also to be changed to include more external exams as has been demanded by conservative Melbourne University vice-chancellor Professor David Penington.

The cuts in teacher positions amount to 10% of the states public service teachers and follows three years of large cuts to the public school system under the previous Kirner Labor government.

At the same time government funding of private schools was increased. However in September this year the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing thinktank, claimed that the victorian education budget could be cut by $300 million a year, 5500 teachers could be sacked and student-teacher ratios increased from one teacher to 13.5 students to the national average of 15.8.

The cuts announced so far amount to $86 million "saving" but unions expect more cuts have yet to be announced. The Kirner lement a $83 million cut in education last year but failed because of union opposition to the breaking of industrial agreements. However the Kennett government has passed special legislation to allow it to break industrial agreements made by the previous government.

Resistance spokesperson Jo Brown called on high school students to get organised and participate in the campaign against education cuts. She said that the powerful student strike that met similar cuts by the Coalition government in NSW. "Education issues concern nearly everyone in the community and there is great potential to build a popular movement capable of stopping Kennett", she said.