The coalition has promised to expand Ballina High School with the construction of a new building to cater for 1,000 students if re-elected. But the opposition has warned the plan is dependent on a controversial sale of the power grid.
Premier Mike Baird and education minister Adrian Piccoli were in Ballina yesterday to unveil the ambitious $40 million plan, which would see Ballina High School and the secondary section of Southern Cross School merged into a single campus.
Mr Piccoli said there had been much discussion over the years about the options for the growing secondary population in Ballina but the consensus was that a single high school catering for around 1,000 students would allow a wider curriculum to be offered.
‘I think the majority of parents will support the announcement that’s been made because we will have a world class school right here in Ballina,’ he told ABC yesterday.
He said there would be no job losses as the result of the plan, as all Southern Cross secondary teachers would be relocated to the new school.
He added that the move would give Southern Cross School room to expand in its existing campus and grow its distance education section.
But he admitted that there would be insufficient recreation space within the new high school grounds and said discussions would begin immediately with Ballina council ‘over shared community, sporting and cultural facilities’.
The premier told the media the new school would be ‘state of the art’.
‘Ballina High School will be the envy of not only the state but the nation,’ he said.
Work on the new school would commence ‘straight away’ after the election.
But the opposition candidate for Ballina, Paul Spooner, has warned the plan is contingent on its controversial plan to sell off the state’s electricity network, which has been stalled in the upper house during this term of government.
He described it as ‘a promise that can’t be delivered’ and ‘just an attempt to blackmail people into supporting his risky plan to sell off the electricity network.’
‘The Baird government has already cut $1.7 billion from the education budget – now he is promising anything he thinks will get him a vote,’ Mr Spooner said.
‘The coalition has so far committed $20 billion from a sale that even they say is only likely to generate a maximum of $13 billion.’
‘And the sale will rip $1 billion of revenue out of the budget – currently spent on schools and hospitals each and every year.’
He said that the Labor Party by contrast would ‘make modest commitments that it knows it can deliver – funded by the reliable profits delivered by our publicly-owned electricity network.’
But the teachers union has welcomed the move, with spokesperson Mark Wheatley saying he ‘absolutely welcomes’ the announcement.
He added that Ballina High teachers and students supported it and he ‘couldn’t imagine’ why staff, students and parents at Southern Cross would resist ‘such a wonderful opportunity’.
Mr Wheatley told ABC that ‘we’ve been given assurances that all stakeholders will be consulted with as we move along’.
‘It obviously shows that public education is being taken seriously as a provider of education in the area,’ he said.
But the principal at Southern Cross, Janine Silcock, said she hadn’t been consulted before the announcement. Staff, she said, were ‘shocked’ at the announcement and added they ‘didn’t realise that those sorts of decisions are made in that manner’.
However she told ABC they ‘acknowledged that money such as that being poured into public education is a great thing.