Budgets lag behind infrastructure needs

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

The maintenance backlog is an estimated $732 million

Recent announcements about building 40 new classrooms and new schools as well as an additional $330 million for maintenance funding, while welcome, have not met current needs. It is estimated that in the next 15 years student enrolments in public schools will increase by 173,000 students and 6250 additional classrooms will be needed. The maintenance backlog for NSW public schools is reported to be around $732 million.

The Audit Office of NSW is conducting a performance audit to “assess whether the Department has a strategy and implementation model to ensure sufficient fit-for-purpose student learning spaces when and where needed”.

Federation’s submission to the Audit Office indicates that without substantial additional funding for major and minor capital works and maintenance the Department will not be able to meet this goal. The submission outlines the negative impact on student learning and wellbeing of:-

  • decades of underinvestment in school infrastructure
  • poor planning resulting in overcrowding in schools and classrooms including excessive use of demountables
  • inadequate consultation with staff in the design of new schools and spaces.

Federation contacted a sample of schools with a significant maintenance backlog. The issue for most of these schools was the huge disparity between the identified funding needed to carry out all maintenance work and the budget provided.

School had only $100,000 to pay $800,000 needs

One example was a school that had more than $800,000 priority maintenance works identified but only $100,000 in the maintenance budget. This meant costly work on guttering and leaks could not be permanently fixed. The result was that problems associated with flooding after rain had to be fixed regularly at considerable expense rather than fixing the source of the problem at a cost of around $250,000.

One school listed as having a large maintenance backlog was pleased to report that following an upgrade of several million dollars no further work was necessary.

Other issues associated with the maintenance backlog included the need to upgrade toilet facilities and plumbing, install electrical power boards to meet technological needs, address trip hazards, replace mouldy carpets, fix concrete cancer and remove or maintain trees.

Schools have also reported on inadequate heating and cooling systems. In summer, many students suffer in classrooms where the temperature tops 40C.

In some new schools in areas of rapid growth, large numbers of demountables have been installed because there are insufficient classrooms. This means little outdoor space for students and the consequent overcrowding impacts on behaviour, learning and morale.

Federation members in some schools being refurbished or rebuilt have raised problems of inadequate consultation in relation to the design of learning spaces for students and facilities for staff. Members in some schools have been told that they will have to work with the design provided and consultation is only focused on how they will adapt to the design.

Federation will continue to pursue these matters with the Department. Where issues related to maintenance and capital works are impacting on health and safety. Members should use the Department’s work, health and safety issue resolution procedure and contact their Organiser.