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EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 17/05/2010 - Primary Schools for the 21st Century program

Estimates & Committees
Sarah Hanson-Young 17 May 2010

Senator Hanson Young -Obviously, it seems as if, because of the way you have been able to project manage each of the different upgrades and infrastructure spends and projects yourselves, you obviously have a longstanding process in place to do that because you have had to administer capital grants funding for decades, and I totally understand that. I guess the other submissions we have had and evidence we are getting particularly from individual government schools is that their school communities do not feel as though they have been kept in the loop enough, so obviously they are being project managed by the state administration. It is a much more bureaucratic process, I guess. What do you do to ensure that you are able to keep in touch with your school community so that the parents council knows what is going on and the principals understand what this type of spending is? What do you do to ensure that it is not just your own bureaucratic administration and perhaps your schools are not feeling as involved as they could be?

Mrs Ioannou -The schools are fully, if you like, in control of their projects, so they manage them. They are managing their own school communities directly themselves. In the early phases, they would have been working through their boards and their canonical administrators, and the school principals really take seriously that role, obviously, of consulting with their own school and their own communities. We support them and back them up if and when necessary.

Senator Hanson Young -So they do a lot of it themselves?

Mrs Ioannou -Absolutely.

Mr Elder -But a lot of it is within the broad umbrella of Catholic Capital Grants, which basically gets engaged with the schools. We see this as a partnership with the schools in respect of the appointment of the architects. We work with the schools in respect of tender. Fundamentally it is a partnership. We do not just give them a free-for-all to do what they like; it is done within the guidelines that we have at Catholic Capital Grants. We have experts who work for us, including engineers, property consultants, valuers et cetera. Fundamentally, like any good business, we do what we do best where you aggregate up the demand, where we can deliver it more efficiently, so we have those experts who sit within our office. It is all done within the broad parameters that we lay down, so we work in close collaboration and partnership with the schools through the project process.

Senator Hanson Young -Has there been any time throughout the management of this stimulus money rollout where a school wanted something that did not really fit with the guidelines and, if so, how was that process managed from your end?

Mrs Ioannou -I think the early days around the enrolment cut-off would probably be the point where a couple of the schools felt some angst and I guess disappointment that they had missed particularly that cut-off at the 151 sort of program. But, at the end of the day, the schools needed to just work through that. All of our schools are in receipt of the maximum indicative funding amount that they were able to achieve, so it just was not possible for the system to change above the rules of the program, which saw funding allocated on a certain enrolment mark.

Senator Hanson Young -So, from what you are aware of, none of your schools are disappointed that they had to have a school hall when actually they wanted something else?

Mrs Ioannou -The way we ran it was, again, with our established procedures. The schools were asked to submit their priority for the program, so they were fully briefed. We all knew that there were strict guidelines around the order of the program-libraries and halls-but there was enough flexibility in the guidelines to allow the schools to meet their needs. If they had a library in place, we did not force them to build a library, and the same with the halls. There was enough flexibility at the end of the day for the schools to be able to develop a very sensible project that would meet a high need.

Senator Hanson Young -Where does the buck stop? If the federal education department have a concern with something, do they come to you or do they go to the school?

Mrs Ioannou -As I understand it, they normally come direct to us first, and the relationship is for us to work with the schools.

Senator Hanson Young -Do you have any relationship with the state government departments in relation to this capital grants funding?

Mr Elder -No. From time to time we meet with the state government, but fundamentally you are looking at two different ways of administering the funds. One is highly centralised, whereas ours is more devolved.

Senator Hanson Young -So you work directly with the federal education department as opposed to having to go through the Victorian state government here.

Mrs Ioannou -We do not go through the Victorian state department; we work direct with DEEWR.

Senator Hanson Young -So you would not be able to comment on the concerns that are being raised about the inefficiencies, or perhaps misunderstandings or lack of communication and consultation, from the state government department, because you do not have to deal with them.

Mrs Ioannou -Correct.

Senator Hanson Young -Has there been any feedback or have issues been raised with you by schools that feel that they have gone through a good process and yet the local government school at the other end of the street has not? Is that stuff that has been forwarded to you? Do people raise the questions? When they read about it in the paper, do they say, 'This hasn't been our problem'?

Mr Elder -We can only speak on behalf of our schools and our system of schools. Fundamentally, the project has been very well regarded by our schools. Where our schools have been in newspapers, that has been at the invitation of the government schools, who have used our schools to try to reinforce a point through the newspapers. But we do not encourage that from our office.

Senator Hanson Young -You mentioned that some of your projects-not many of them-have not started. How many did you say-

Mrs Ioannou -Three.

Senator Hanson Young -You referred to issues with planning and planning approval. What has been the issue there? Is this just standard procedure or is it because it was also fast?

Mrs Ioannou -First of all, the state government did assist by putting in some streamlined planning provisions to try to assist the rollout of the BER program. At the end of the day, a couple of these programs have just had some difficult planning issues. One in particular involved a relocation of the school, so it was just something that would take a little bit more time.

Senator Hanson Young -But overall getting planning approval has not been a problem or caused any angst?

Mrs Ioannou -Not at all. It has been faster than it normally would have for us.

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