Warracknabeal school limbo continues

Warracknabeal school limbo continues


Politics
Students at Warracknabeal Primary School look over at unfinished work at the Warracknabeal Education Precinct.

Students at Warracknabeal Primary School look over at unfinished work at the Warracknabeal Education Precinct.

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A northwest Victorian school continues to operate in limbo, with no further funding for half-finished projects.

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A NORTHWEST Victorian community remains committed to battling for adequate funding to redevelop its school precinct after failing to win money from the Victorian state government in its budget earlier in the year.

At present the Warracknabeal Education Precinct, consisting of a secondary, primary and special needs school is in barely usable form, with half-constructed projects sitting idle without funds to finish them and students forced to use inadequate facilities.

One of the major gripes of the Warracknabeal community has been that initial funding had to be spent on the three separate schools, rather than a common sense approach which would have seen one of the schools finished in entirety, rather than three half-complete renovations due to bureaucratic regulations regarding spending.

Kate Liersch, spokesperson for the 'Finish What You Started' campaign, committed to holding the Victorian government to account in regards to its obligations to the Warracknabeal Education precinct, said the community, tucked in the safe Nationals seat of Lowan, felt forgotten.

"We just want to provide our kids with the best opportunities and they clearly don't have that at present."

Ms Liersch did not spare the Opposition, saying they also had chances to fund the project in their time in government.

"We've heard the government talk about its plans to be the education state, but how does that stack up when we've been waiting for this to be done for 15 years?" she questioned.

Studies have long showed growing inequality between rural and urban students, with a 2015 report from the Mitchell Institute showing outer regional students steadily falling behind their urban counterparts in meeting educational milestones as their schooling went on.

Ms Liersch said it was hard for students to achieve their academic potential in the current environment.

Decrepit classrooms at the Warracknabeal Education Precinct.

Decrepit classrooms at the Warracknabeal Education Precinct.

"Many students already have to travel a long distance just to get to school and then we have these aging facilities, including many classrooms unchanged since their parents studied there 30-odd years ago, and three half-finished projects."

Photos of decrepit classrooms currently still in use in show cracking, falling plaster and holes in the ceiling.

And the first round of funding has delivered little in terms of facilities ready to use.

"At present, with stage 1 of the Warracknabeal Education Precinct project complete, and no further funds committed, we have 50 per cent of an administration building, 30pc of a secondary college and 40pc of the Special Developmental School completed.

"It seems absurd that we have three partially finished schools and the project is currently at a standstill."

"Where is the commitment to the community and the students of our area?"

Victorian education minister James Merlino defended the decision not to fund the project, saying the government's priority in the 2019-20 budget was to meet its election commitments.

He said the government had already allocated $6 million to the project and that new science and multipurpose classrooms were now being used.

However, Ms Liersch said the new rooms were not fit for purpose and students were forced into inappropriate rooms.

"I'm sure Mr. Merlino and the Department of Education would be aware that secondary school science labs are not a suitable classroom environment for Warracknabeal Special Developmental School students," she said.

"Currently our special students are missing out on vital programs because they have had to relocate into a partially finished school."

A possum has made a hole in the ceiling in this classroom at Warracknabeal Secondary College.

A possum has made a hole in the ceiling in this classroom at Warracknabeal Secondary College.

Mr Merlino said his department would 'continue to work with the Warracknabeal Education precinct to meet infrastructure needs' and that the government was investing in school infrastructure across the state.

Ms Liersch said deflecting the discussion to other projects was not helping Warracknabeal students.

"The point is that we, as a community, are suffering, all we are asking is for the government to finish what they started."

An additional $16 million is required to complete the project, which has been identified as a regional priority across the entire Wimmera and Southern Mallee by all local municipalities.

Local parents fear that without investment there will be an exodus of students, either to neighbouring schools, meaning extra travelling time for families, or more drastically to boarding schools.

"It's so disappointing to keep on missing out on funding when we so clearly need it, but you can't give up, we just have to keep on fighting and keep on highlighting what is lacking here," Ms Liersch said.

The story Warracknabeal school limbo continues first appeared on Farm Online.

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