More Victorian school closures imminent

Issue 

By Norrian Rundle

MELBOURNE — The second round of Kennett government state school closures is under way. In May the Directorate of School Education issued a paper misleadingly called "Quality Provision of Education in Victoria" which set in train closures to follow the 55 closed last year.

The paper outlined a program of "community consultation" which excludes parents, teachers and their unions. Only principals and school council presidents will be consulted between July 18 and September 10.

Community activists have alleged that school council elections in at least one school were rigged by people supporting school closures, and the police have been called in to investigate.

In two safe Liberal seats, local MPs have been sent to secondary schools to offer money and promises of ongoing positions if they accept closures. In one safe Labor seat, two secondary schools have been told to merge by 1994. While they have been offered resources and ongoing positions for their staff, it is unlikely that either of these promises will be fully met, if at all.

Money for the resources would have to come from the sale of existing sites, but in the current economic climate these sites will not fetch good prices. A school site in the western suburbs was recently sold to a private school for less than the reserve price.

The only way teachers in closing schools could secure positions is to displace teachers in other schools. As the staffing officers in the DSE are opposed to this policy, the offer will be withdrawn.

The teacher unions' response to the DSE paper is to organise a community campaign against all school closures. However, the union leaderships are not totally opposed to closing schools. Victorian Secondary Teachers Association president Brian

Henderson told the media that the unions had participated in more than 100 school closures under the previous Labor government. Their real objection was Kennett's exclusion of unions from the process.

The former Labor government laid the groundwork for the current budget cuts and school closures by running down state school education. So it was not surprising that at the June 19-20 Victorian Labor conference, a resolution to reopen schools such as Richmond and Northland secondary colleges — who are fighting closure with occupations — was lost.

The teacher union leaderships' hope that returning a Labor government will save state education is clearly misplaced. Only a well-organised industrial and political campaign can stop the decimation of public schools in Victoria.

Teacher, parent and community activists angered at the lack of action from the teacher unions established an Education Coalition two months ago. It is campaigning against all attacks on state education, including school closures, job losses and cuts to school programs.

The coalition decided to seek support from all school councils and to organise a parent-backed student strike on July 2. A rally will be held outside Parliament House at 11 a.m. that day. The coalition's meetings are open; further information can be obtained from Steve Jolley or Elvie Sievers on (03) 428 3328.