This opinion piece was published in the NT Sun Newspapers on 14 May 2019 under the title Rental move is a step back.

It was revealed in the NT budget repair plan that a rental assistance incentive available to teachers in Katherine will be wound back. From the beginning of 2020, the subsidy will be cut from $2 million dollars to $1.5 million. Teachers will be responsible for paying the difference.

In response to the government’s belt tightening demands placed on departments, Education CEO Vicki Baylis “… said her department offered up the Katherine subsidy, along with other subsidies, as instructed by the government.” (Our teachers are ready to leave, Katherine Times, May 3 2019)

Ms Baylis confirmed that reducing the rental subsidy is a done deal. ““It was a Cabinet decision to seek to remove them, it would have to be a Cabinet decision to reverse it” she said.” (Op cit)

Given the reduction will not impact upon Katherine teachers until January 2020, there is hope that matters might be resolved.

A significant package of incentives has been designed to attract and retain teachers to remote areas of the NT. There is some variation on offered incentives, determined by the degree of workplace remoteness. Along with Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs, Katherine is not generally defined as being ‘remote’.

Contemplating the loss of benefits and conditions of service for teachers in areas outside Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs is distasteful. A better and ultimately more efficient way of examining expenditure priorities might be to reduce and redesign the extensive departmental structure that oversights Territory schools.

There was a time when the NT Education Department had two service divisions. With the passing of years this straightforward structure has exponentially broadened and deepened. Education’s organisational structure has expanded to seven divisions. There are 84 director and manager positions within the support service hierarchy. Many of these positions generate a significant number of additional office staff.

Functions that were once the prerogative of the department under a centralised management model, have now been outsourced to school boards and councils. However, this has not reduced the numbers of people employed in the head office. Devolving educational responsibility to schools has generated accountability requirements imposed by government. Overseeing how schools manage their responsibilities has lead to the employment of more central office staff.

It is unwise to prune historic incentives offered to teachers of our schools. A better approach would be to have confidence in and trust in our schools. If that happens, less staff will need to be employed to monitor schools. Salary savings rather than cuts to incentives may help balance the educational budget.

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