Uproar at private school fee threat
Adrian Piccoli … facing backbench revolt. Photo: Ben Rushton
THE NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, is facing threats of no confidence and a backbench revolt as government MPs are inundated with complaints from furious constituents over plans to cut $67 million from Catholic and independent schools.
There are warnings the cuts will translate into fee increases of up to 10 per cent for every student in non-government schools in NSW, larger class sizes and the loss of hundreds of teaching jobs.
News of the cuts has made its way to non-government schools and prompted the Catholic Education Commission to urge parents, principals, priests and teachers to contact MPs to decry what is being described as ''the biggest threat to NSW Catholic schools in decades''.
The Herald has spoken to a government MP who was told by the principal of an independent school in his electorate yesterday he was ''no longer welcome'' as a result of the decision.
Government MPs spent yesterday afternoon fielding calls and emails from furious parents, teachers and principals lobbying them to do what they could to overturn Mr Piccoli's plan.
One MP said the anger was so great there was talk of moving a no-confidence motion in Mr Piccoli at the joint party room meeting on Tuesday. MPs are also threatening to cross the floor if the opposition moves a no-confidence motion in Parliament next week.
''The entire party room is furious that the Minister for Education briefed the non-government school sector without giving even a whisper to the backbench,'' an MP said.
Another Liberal MP said: ''It was Menzies who first provided state aid to Catholic and independent schools and today the party of Menzies is looking to take that away.''
And another MP said he had been inundated with calls that were ''full of vitriol and hatred''.
Many MPs feel the anger is so palpable it may affect the Coalition's chances at today's local government elections.
In a letter sent home with schoolchildren yesterday, the Catholic Education Commission urged parents to contact MPs demanding an explanation.
''NSW bishops call on the Premier of NSW, Barry O'Farrell, to intervene immediately to block the announcement of what amounts to being the biggest threat to NSW Catholic schools in decades,'' the letter reads.
The letter warns the cuts will force Catholic independent schools to increase fees by up to $496 per student above planned increases. For Catholic systemic schools the increase would be $100 to compensate.
The NSW Parents' Council, which represents independent schools, issued a statement warning that school fees ''may well be increased by the order of 10 per cent''. The council warned of the possible loss of hundreds of teaching positions, larger class sizes and reduced curriculum options.
A spokesman for Mr Piccoli refused to comment last night other than to say: ''No decision has been made about how savings will be achieved in the education portfolio.''
But the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, a former education spokesman for the Liberal Party, said the decision had gone to cabinet, which has decided to introduce legislation to lock in the funding cuts.
''The cuts approved by cabinet are not simply a flow-on of supposed cuts in public education,'' Mr O'Doherty said. ''What has been approved is a change to the legislation that has provided a reasonable and predictable basis of funding for many years.''