MONEY MANAGEMENT CONSUMES SCHOOL LEADERS

Published in edited form in NT Suns on August 8 2017.

MONEY MANAGEMENT CONSUMES SCHOOL LEADERS

From time to time, what appear to be mixed messages about money and its availability to schools gains traction in the media. People might be forgiven for believing that the matter of money for education means that all aspects of school programs are covered and money management is not as issue.

That is far from being the case. While global budgets gave principals and school councils greater autonomy in the way money was spent, there are obligations that mean care has to be taken with expenditure. Utility costs (power and water) and contractual needs ( cleaning and grounds maintenance) have to be met. Checks and balances have to be in place to ensure that money is on hand to meet these periodic accounts.

Without careful planning and awareness, school budgets can be prematurely drained. Allocations are received twice each year, with income having to meet accounts to be presented in the following months. Detailed planning is necessary because cost accountability is each school’s responsibility.

Global school budgets were implemented in Northern Territory Government schools in 2015 to reduce red tape and provide schools with increased autonomy. The Education Department identifies three benefits for schools.

“• increased flexibility and autonomy in decision making
• a clearer financial framework for use in planning
• greater certainty and visibility of the overall resources available to the school including staffing.” (Department of Education website)

School budgets are based on student needs. School location and the specific
needs of each child are taken into account. The following factors help determine the amount
received by each school.

• year level of students
• Indigenous status
• socio-economic status and community affluence.
• remoteness of the school.

The system aims at being fair and simple, but there are issues.

Staffing is one of the main problem areas. The salary allocation for each school is fixed, but pay rates and entitlements for teachers and support staff are variable. More experienced staff command higher salaries than those who are in their initial years of service. In order to save on salaries and spread staffing dollars, school councils may consider replacing experienced teachers with those beginning their teaching journey. While employment for permanent teachers can be guaranteed, those on contract do not have similar security of tenure.

Making sure there is sufficient money to meet every need is a challenge. Principals can become so busy with administration, they don’t have time to be the educational leaders they aim to be.

 
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BUILDING DISRUPTS LEARNING

DISTRACTIONS CHALLENGE SCHOOL PROGRAMS

While written with the Northern Territory in mind, this paper, published in the ‘NT Sun’, has applicability to all systems everywhere.

Capital works projects and major physical changes to many territory schools are presently underway. In some, facilities are being replaced, extended or upgraded. Others have outdoor area and playground restrictions in place because irrigation systems are being modified or replaced. A drive around Darwin and Palmerston, reveals many schools with restriction barriers and cautionary signage because of disruption. Schools in regional centres are also being impacted by capital works programs.

During 2015 and this year, the NT Government funded building and capital works for many of our schools. There are two elements to this initiative. One is the enhancement of school infrastructure. The second is providing a continued livelihood for building and construction firms, to counter a looming downturn in this area of economic enterprise.

A perusal of tender documentation in the NT News over past months, confirms that many schools have received hundreds of thousands of dollars for infrastructure projects. A multitude of companies have won contracts for this work.

Timing work

Timing of construction works is always problematic. Principals, teachers, support staff and students in schools where physical upgrades are happening, deserve special recognition and commendation. Many Northern Territory school campuses are presently subject to major capital works modifications.

Closed off areas restrict play opportunities for students. Recreational activities have to be modified and available space is more restricted than usual. When these works are completed, grounds recovery and lawn regrowth time will still limit access for children.

Building extensions mean that in some cases, classes have to be relocated for significant periods of time. There are often dust problems to counter, while a barrage of noise associated with work has to be tolerated by both students and staff. When facilities are restricted, timetables may need to be altered and some programs significantly modified or cancelled altogether.

Those in schools which are being disrupted, deserve appreciation and plaudits. Staff and students can and do manage in spite of these major inconveniences. They work around construction issues, carrying on with teaching and learning programs. Their resilience and resolve are to be applauded.

While the present emphasis is on building improvements and facilities enhancement, what goes on within schools is the most important of all educational considerations. Allocating money for capital improvement is well and good. However, a higher priority for schools is the channeling of funds directed toward the employment and training of staff to meet student needs. What happens within classrooms to support children, is the essence of education. This is an area that remains as a challenging priority within our system.

SPECIAL EDUCATION IN NT – THE BEST IN AUSTRALIA

SPECIAL SCHOOLS CLEAR TERRITORY WINNERS

Special Education in the NT has been boosted by the opening of the new Henbury Avenue School. This upgraded facility adds to educational and developmental opportunities for students with special learning needs.

Henbury Avenue began its life as ‘Coconut Grove Special School’ in the 1970’s. It was a school of two or three transportable rooms. There was a photo in the NT news of that time showing then Principal Charlie Carter pulling a wheelchair bound student up flagged concrete steps into one of the buildings. Henbury Avenue in particularly and special education in general has come a long way since that time.

Priority

NT Governments of both political persuasions and the Department of Education have placed a high priority on special educational needs. Darwin students are excellently supported by both Nemarluk and Henbury Special Schools. Both are new, upgraded schools. Students with enrolment eligibility are provided for in terms of their primary and secondary education. Integration of students into mainstream programs offered by nearby schools has overcome segregation for special school students. This allows them the opportunity to develop educational and social links with peers outside the parameters of their main school.

Palmerston has a special education unit incorporated into Rosebery Middle School. A special unit to meet primary students need operates as an annex to Woodroffe Primary. Integration into mainstream classes is an organisational focus.

Students with learning challenges who do not qualify for entry into Special Schools are supported in primary and secondary schools. Qualified staff support classroom teachers. Special Education Support Assistants are employed as budgets allow, to offer extra assistance to children experiencing learning difficulties in mainstream classes. Individualised educational plan are developed to identify both learning needs and specific teaching strategies for these pupils. Regular in-school reviews involving parents, support staff and teachers take place. This helps keep awareness of student needs and progress to the fore.

Stigma

There is a belief that to enrol children in other than mainstream schools is belittling. That is not true. Parents whose children are eligible to enrol at Nemarluk, Henbury, Acacia Hills in Alice Springs (where $6.5 million is being spent on upgrades) or special schools in regional centres, should arrange a visit. As parents generally discover, the benefits children gain from enrolment in special schools, far outweigh any negatives.

The issue of enrolment should not be coloured by misconceptions. Our special education schools, their annexes and our support programs for children with special needs are the best in Australia.

TAXES AND SCHOOL FEES

I fully understand the notion of fees being charged for the education of children. At times there is controversy over whether government’s should fund private schools in any way or whether their contribution should be for public schools alone.

My personal feeling is that a percentage of the public purse being contributed to private schools is fine. After all, most parents are taxpayers and have a right of school choice. That being so, the benefit of educational dollars should be holistically and not sectionally shared.

However, the notion of fees charged on top of government contribution by schools needs consideration. If fees are ‘over the top exorbitant ‘ then schools have it wrong/

I think that charging fees to huge excess of need is a miscarriage of what should be about the serious education of young people. Certainly, schools have to have enough in the way of assets to carry contingencies and overcome shortfalls. However, if they are primarily in the game to make money for sponsors unknown or to boost fat bank accounts, then that is wrong. If they practice undue leverage on parents in order to accumulate funds for ‘boasting’ capital works that are more about image than need, that is also wrong.

PROGRAMS NOT BUILDING MUST BE TOP PRIORITY

Expenditure on education is often in the doldrums. However, when elections are in the offing, governments hasten to ramp up systems. Their newfound interest is expressed through money allocated for buildings and facilities. These are visible artefacts that allow governments to boast of their support for schools.

Truth be known, the desperate expenditure need is in the area of teaching and learning. The interface between teachers and students is stretched because human resources are often under-recognised.

Infrastructure development enables governments to show off. “Is this nor a great school I have built” might be the cry. Yet the highest priority is that of expenditure needed in classrooms with lessons, program implementation and assessment tasks.

This matter needs addressing.

RE-BADGING IS A HUGE COST ITEM

Organisation’s from schools, to educational regions and districts and main head offices frequently get involved in changing names, mottos and logos. It might be felt that the logo needs updating with or through the impression of modern art.

Mottos can change. They might be key statements of ambition or intent at school, district or system level. The names of regions and departments change at regular intervals.

In the Northern Territory (Australia) we were initially the Department of Education. Then we became the Department of Employment, Education and Training, then the Department of Education and Children’s Services. Now we are back to being the Department of Education, but for how long no-one knows.

These changes happen everywhere. Stationers and sign writers do very well from the business that comes their way.

There are huge costs in changing labels, everything from stationery to major signage and a lot in between. It seems we would do well in education to look at re-prioritising money devoted to these changes. It would be far better it seems, for that money which amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars (at the very least) to educating students in our schools and universities.