Just the bare necessities as budget bites autonomous school
Duffy Primary School has run over budget with staff being told that only essentials like toilet paper and handwash can be purchased until the end of the year.
The Weston Creek primary school is one of 23 public schools taking part in the ACT government's school autonomy trial where principals have been given entire school budgets to balance - paying for everything from staff salaries to power bills, new equipment, and stationery.
Duffy teachers were sent an email earlier this month from a member of the administrative staff saying the school had been advised by Education Directorate finance officials ''that we have exceeded our budget and we are to buy only the essentials (toilet paper and hand wash) until the end of year. Please check your storerooms as no orders are to be made henceforth. Sharing is caring. Be creative!'' Parents expressed concern about the state of finances, prompting principal Kim Darcy to send a follow-up email last week advising that while the email had gone out ''in consultation'' with her, essential purchases would still be approved.
''We are trying to limit spending at this time as many budgets are way over, most schools stop spending in October whilst they look at the budget for the next year we are just doing this a little earlier.
''This does not mean that you can not request essential purchases, just fill in the green purchase order form and give to your executive teacher for approval.
''Please don't tell parents that you are not allowed to purchase things as this is not the case but I emphasis 'essential' and would expect people to check their storerooms before putting in a purchase order.'' Ms Darcy said Duffy was no different to any ACT government school in that budgets grew tighter at the end of each year.
She said much of the financial pressure this year was due to the school's decision to invest in 30 new iPads and it had been unexpectedly hit with a water bill for $16,000 as well as storm damage to a shade cloth area requiring expensive repairs.
Ms Darcy said she still supported the ACT government's Empowering ACT Schools trial, which has been running for the past 18 months alongside a broader federal government school autonomy trial giving principals greater budgetary discretion.
''Would we like more money? Any school would. But can we run the school successfully on the money we've got? Yes, we can and we do,'' Ms Darcy said.
Australian Education Union acting ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler said that the emails reflected the potential dangers of greater autonomy which was that school leaders were forced to focus on keeping track of every aspect of school spending while trying to be educational leaders.
''Increased autonomy places principals in the invidious position of having to fret about the school's finances for a large part of their week, and this could affect their capacity to focus on teaching and learning,'' Mr Fowler said yesterday.
The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations last month called for a halt to the expansion of the trial.
Council president Viv Pearce said the Duffy case raised the need for ''some safety mechanism introduced across the system to supplement school budgets according to individual circumstances.''
A spokesman for the ACT Education Directorate said that ACT schools had been operating under school-based management for over 15 years.