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.PT1M41S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2acgt 620 349 November 28, 2012
A Coptic Christian school in Frankston North has gone into administration leaving more than 200 students in the lurch, some of whom fled persecution in Egypt.
St Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox College is the third independent school in Victoria to collapse this year.
The prep to year 12 school is expected to close at the end of the year after an administrator was today appointed when the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne could not meet all the college debt.
One student told The Age that the school director, Father Athanasius Attia told the school community of the financial crisis 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."
However the student said it was disappointing the school had left it to a week before deadline to inform the community about its critical financial state rather than alerting parents at the beginning of the year.
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.
About half of the students had little or no English when they started prep however very high proportions went on to university.
"I think it's pretty disappointing that students that are new to our country, who the church was trying to do the right thing by and provide with an appropriate education, are going to have to find another school that will cope with their unique needs," said former principal Gary Underwood, who left at the end of term 3.
"How that’s going to be provided I don’t know."
He said the school had been struggling with numbers for the last couple of years.
Another student, who had been at the school since prep, said she was nothing but proud to have been a student at St Anthony's.
"I learnt a lot being there, particularly my morals. The students and teachers are understandably quite sad about this situation, particularly about losing the close family like bond between one another. But as the majority of us are part of the same Coptic orthodox church, I think it will make things a little easier."
Father Athanasius said in a letter to parents it had been a heartbreaking decision and was an incredibly sad day for the college and community.
Victorian Independent Education Union general secretary Deb James said her immediate concern was ensuring staff received their entitlements.
"Clearly there are issues about the establishment and oversight of independent schools in Victoria that are not being properly addressed," Ms James said.
Mowbray College, which had campuses in Melton and Caroline Springs, closed in June following the shock revelation it was more than $18 million in debt.
Acacia College in Mernda will close at the end of the year after accruing more than $40 million in debt bailing out the developer.
Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said St Anthony’s was helping students find other schools.
"Running schools is a pretty expensive business and it is becoming harder and harder for communities to continue to support small schools," Ms Green said.
She said the uncertainly surrounding federal government school funding reforms was also impacting on independent schools.
"I'm not suggesting the church would have made any different decision in the end but when federal funding is more stable it is easier for churches and other financial backers to think this is something we can count on."
St Anthony's Coptic Orthodox College will continue to operate until the administrator, Mathew Gollant, has assessed the college's financial situation.