Tears as cuts to close SOTA

Taylar Amonini and Tom ZaunmayrNorth West Telegraph

The heart of the Pilbara station community may be lost after sweeping education funding cuts, local station owners say.

With three children enrolled in Port Hedland School of the Air, owner of De Grey Station Mark Bettini said the loss of the school was a blow to families across northern Australia. “School of the Air is not just a classroom program — what the kids are losing is that social interaction and sense of community,” he said.

“Despite living remotely, my kids know their classmates, they grow up together, build lasting relationships, all the parents are brought together and they learn how to adjust and relate to other people — I don’t know if SIDE (School of Isolated and Distance Education) will give that to my kids.

“When we broke the news to the kids, my two girls cried and didn’t take it very well.

“That in itself shows just how important School of the Air is to the community, when even our kids are worried for the future.”

The demise of SOTA was announced by Education Minister Sue Ellery last week. It was among $64 million of cuts to education funding from 2019.

A day earlier, the State Government announced $68 million for a new school in Perth, though Ms Ellery has stated the two were not linked.

Mr Bettini said regional Pilbara families felt like they had been forgotten by the State Government, saying they had received no communication about the plans other than an email only hours before the news was broken by the me-dia.

“We have enough trouble keeping families in the bush,” he said.

“If young families don’t think the education provided is good enough, they’ll vote with their feet and move away.

“If Government is so willing to take away what’s so important to these kids, it’s just the thin edge of the wedge for rural Australia.

“Rural Australia needs to stand up, which they are, and not let it happen.”

A rally has been scheduled for 10am today outside Pilbara MLA Kevin Michel’s Karratha office to protest against the cuts.

Mr Michel said he would try to support the community in remote and distance education transition.

”This decision honestly does sadden me a lot but it is something that has to be done to help get our Budget back on track,” he said. “With our State’s finances in tatters and the Opposition refusing to work with us on sensible cost-saving measures, we just can’t afford to have duplication.

“We have to do this right though, and I will be there every step of the way, working to make sure that our kids, parents and communities don’t suffer any disadvantage.”

Among the cuts, six of the seven Government-funded camp schools in WA will also be closed because their programs are not part of the core business of education.

However, private camp schools will remain.

Jaclyn Nicholl, who has worked with camp schools including in Dampier, said the decision to cut funding without consultation was disgraceful.

“It is a kick in the guts for regional WA, especially when they are injecting so much money into a new school in Perth,” she said.

“They haven’t been to these camp schools, the directors had no pre-notice, and it will result in jobs lost in the communities.”

The $64 million cuts will also see 170 positions axed, funding for gifted and talented programs at 18 schools cut by 25 per cent, vacation swimming fees increased by more than 100 per cent, and the intake into the level-three classroom teacher program on hold until 2020.

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