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School failure prompts call for fair and stable funding

Michelle Green from Independent Schools Victoria tells 3AW smaller and independent schools will face more challenges the longer uncertainty around the Gonski review continues.

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The administrator appointed to manage the failed St Anthony's Coptic Orthodox College in Frankston North will accept proposals to operate the school next year, revealing outstanding fees had contributed to the school's pending closure.

Foremans Business Services spokesman Mathew Gollant said it was too early to tell how much debt the school had accumulated. The first priority would be to find places for the students and staff for next year, he said.

St Anthony's collapse is the third by an independent school in Melbourne's outer suburbs this year, however Mr Gollant said each faced individual problems.

"I think each of the schools has its own specific cases," he said.

Father Daniel Ghabrial said St Anthony's catered for migrant students and comforted their families.

"It's a disaster for me. It's a very sad day," he said, admitting some parents had been unable to pay fees for their children.

The school's fees ranged from $2000 to $3500. It had received financial support from the Coptic Orthodox diocese and the Catholic Education Office.

The school will meet with parents tonight to outline how it will support more than 200 students now left in the lurch when it closes on December 14.

Meanwhile, parents spoke of their frustration at the closure. 

Hawaida Issa said she would need to find another school for her son, who was about to finish prep.

"I like the idea of a prep to Year 12 school. It's a small school, it's like a family," she said.

Ms Issa said she had looked at other independent schools in which to enrol her son last year but they had been about twice the cost of St Anthony's.

She said her son was doing well at the school and she was concerned about making the move into Grade 1 at another school.

"He was very comfortable and happy."

Another parent, James Kuok, said he was very concerned about the closure and where his six children would continue their education.

One student said that the school director, Father Athanasius Attia, told the school community of the college's debt problem at a speech night last week.

"Father Athanasius reached out and asked all parents to make any donations and [for] unpaid fees to be paid," the student said.

"He also mentioned that he tried to get in contact with the government to push a school budget forward about a week so that the debts could be paid before they fell due. Students have been in speculation about the school closing down for two years now and we pretty much knew it was close to an end."

Most of the students who attended St Anthony's Coptic Orthodox College came from Middle Eastern and African Coptic Christian communities and some were refugees.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu said there needed to be more scrutiny of independent schools’ finances.

‘‘We need greater scrutiny of the financial position of independent schools so there are no surprises like this,’’ he told reporters.

‘‘Most of the problem has been with start up schools in the last few years.

‘‘This is one we need to get to the bottom of exactly what’s happened and why action wasn’t taken earlier.’’

- with Jewel Tospfield