CELEBRATING a State government backflip on plans to close five Schools of the Air (SOTA) could be temporarily on hold for Marble Bar mum Tash Johns until local flooding recedes.
Ms Johns is WA president of the Isolated Children’s Parent’s Association (ICPA) and an architect of the extremely successful campaign to enlist community outrage and support to convince Education Minister Sue Ellery to change her mind on closing the SOTA.
She was due to meet with Ms Ellery yesterday to hear first-hand what she meant when she talked about streamlining SOTA administrative services after apologising last week for the “anxiety and distress” she had caused parents by announcing in December they would close.
At the time of Farm Weekly going to press Ms Johns was uncertain whether she could make the meeting.
Between Friday and Sunday afternoons ex-tropical cyclone Joyce, which crossed the Pilbara Coast near Bidyadanga south of Broome on Friday, dumped 150 millimetres of rain on the Marble Bar region, she said.
ICPA WA vice president Liz Sudlow, Northampton, and two other ICPA State council members would meet with Ms Ellery if Ms Johns was unable to attend.
While describing the backflip on closing the SOTA as a “good win”, Ms Johns said ICPA still wanted to see the detail of how they will be administered and discuss other cost cutting measures that were not overturned, including closing the Moora Residential College and six regional camp schools.
“They (Carnarvon, Kalgoorlie, Kimberley, Meekatharra and Port Hedland SOTA) are individual schools serving their own areas and they cannot be run as a group,” Ms Johns said.
“We want to make sure that even though they won’t close, their individual programs will be protected.”
Ms Johns said she was surprised by the speed with which the decision to close the schools was overturned once Premier Mark McGowan returned to work after the Christmas and new year holidays, but was always confident ICPA would win.
She acknowledged strong support from the public via a Facebook page opened by another ICPA member, and by WAFarmers, Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) WA, Western Australian Council of State School Organisations, Country Women’s Association and Kimberley and Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association.
Apart from keeping the SOTA, the government also decided to keep Northam Residential College, to not cut 25 per cent of gifted and talented programs at 18 public secondary colleges and to not freeze for two years intake into the level 3 classroom teachers’ program.
The backflips cut projected education savings from $64 million to $41m.
WAFarmers senior vice president Lyn Slade thanked Ms Ellery and Mr McGowan for changing their minds on the SOTA and Northam residential college closures.
“WAFarmers is delighted by the announcement from the McGowan government to reverse a number of education saving measures, including the controversial closure of the Schools of the Air,” Ms Slade said.
“We sincerely thank Minister Ellery and the Premier for listening to the concerns of those that this decision would affect and for recognising the devastating impact that closure of SOTA would have on isolated communities.
“WAFarmers also congratulates all those involved in keeping this issue at the forefront of the political agenda – it is a true testament to the effect of people-power that this decision has been reversed.”
Ms Slade said a WAFarmers survey seeking feedback on the closure of SOTA had received 1300 responses, with 96.54 per cent of respondents opposed to the SOTA closing and subsequent management by the School of Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE).
“The response to this survey was overwhelming, with the majority of respondents citing the need for fair access to high quality education, the differences in operation between SOTA and SIDE, and the need to keep children in the regions as being the most concerning issues,” she said.
Ms Slade said WAFarmers still planned to meet with Ms Ellery regarding other education saving measures including the closure of regional camp schools, significant cuts to the Boarding Away from Home Allowance, closure of the Moora Residential College and a government proposal to take 20pc of funds from the Agricultural Education Farm Provision Trust.
For more responses on the SOTA backflip see Letters to the Editor in Section 2 of today’s Farm Weekly.