College staff cut wrangle

By Simon Ruppert

To cut or not to cut — that is the question.

And when it comes to Benalla P-12 College’s budget, the local community has said a resounding no.

Deputy Premier and Education Minister James Merlino, however, has said the funding that would be removed as of next year is merely the running costs of the Barkly St Campus, which is now closed.

And Mr Merlino has strenuously denied there will be any staff cuts at Benalla P-12 College.

‘‘This is a really important issue and I want to be absolutely clear,’’ Mr Merlino said.

‘‘When a school makes a decision to close down a campus, which Benalla has done with their Barkly St Campus, there are costs associated with that campus that (the) school no longer need to pay for.

‘‘Things like maintenance, cleaning (and) electricity.

‘‘I really want to be absolutely clear to every single teaching staff member at Benalla, (to) every parent. There will be no reductions in teaching staff as a result of the school’s decision to close Barkly St.

‘‘I really want to make that clear because I don’t want any teachers being concerned, any parent being concerned. There is no reduction at all.’’

Mr Merlino concluded by saying there would also be no reduction in teaching staff next year.

Good news, if proven to be accurate.

However, there is some confusion as staff were told last week that, while there will be no sackings, there is a good chance up to 16 teachers on temporary contracts will not have them renewed.

That’s according to Member for Euroa Steph Ryan who said she had been contacted by several teachers who are concerned for their jobs.

It is also what two teachers have told the Ensign.

‘‘I am very concerned by the fact that Benalla (P-12) College’s budget is being cut by $1.67 million next year. That equates to more than 10 per cent of the school’s overall budget,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘Staff were told, when they were informed, that it’s going to impact with staff cuts, program cuts and increased class sizes.

‘‘I am aware of teachers who have received letters this week informing them that contracts will not be made permanent and teachers have told me that 16 to 17 staff are going to go.’’

The Ensign is in possession of one of the letters Ms Ryan described, which were sent to staff on temporary contracts.

In that letter it does confirm the teacher’s temporary position will not be made permanent.

However, it also states that they will continue on a temporary contract.

So in this case, it seems that despite the position being safe in the short term — there is no guarantee it will lead to a permanent job.

‘‘It’s a devastating outcome for the school,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘When the discussions first took place in 2007 about bringing these schools together there was never any discussion of the budget of the school being reduced and that’s deeply concerning.

‘‘This has come completely out of the blue. This decision ... is wrong and it needs to be called out.’’

Former Benalla College Student and current Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes, however, has accused Ms Ryan of deliberately misleading the public.

‘‘Once again, the Nationals Member for Euroa Steph Ryan has been exposed for misleading the Benalla community,’’ Ms Symes said.

‘‘This time, she’s using the livelihoods of teachers for cheap political point scoring – causing unnecessary angst for Benalla P-12 families.

‘‘I want to be very clear to all teaching staff at Benalla, and to every parent, that there will be no reduction in teaching staff as a result of the closure of the Barkly St campus.

‘‘Unfortunately, we haven’t seen our Nationals representative standing up to her Canberra colleagues — the real political threat to Benalla College.

‘‘It’s not fake news that under Scott Morrison’s Federal Coalition Government the school will be $220000 worse off over three years due to their announced funding model.

‘‘I implore Ms Ryan to stop talking down my community, stop with the fake news, and in future check her facts.’’

Right now the outcome of this budget reduction seems to depend which side of politics you ask.

One thing is for sure, and that is that the closure of the Barkly St Campus will see the school’s budget reduced by more than $1.5 million.

What impact this will have on the school is still unknown. At this stage each side of the political divide see the outcome differently.

But regardless of political hyperbole and rhetoric the most important thing for Benalla is to ensure the quality of teaching at P-12 College is not reduced.

Only time will tell how this budget reduction will affect the school, its staff and its students.