A proposed state parliamentary inquiry into the closure of public schools in the regions could throw light as to why a long-awaited high school for the fast growing Pottsville area has been ignored, NSW MPs have been told.
And Tweed MP Geoff Provest (Nationals) has also come under attack for refusing to support the Pottsville community and ‘disputing’ its data on the need for a public high school for the area.
The MP, according to Labor, had repeatedly promising to build the school at the 2007 and 2011 election campaigns and ‘twice failed to deliver’.
Labor’s north coast spokesman Walt Secord raised the issue in parliament late last week during a debate on a motion by cross-bencher Paul Green MLC (Christian Democratic Party) to set up an inquiry into the closure of public schools in rural and regional areas.
Mr Secord said Labor backed the inquiry and hoped it would ‘shine a spotlight on how the Liberals and Nationals decide on the criteria to close or open a rural and regional school’. He told MPs he referred to Pottsville to ‘illustrate the frustration of communities about how decisions are made in the department’
‘The matter of rural and regional schools was brought to my attention as the shadow minister for the north coast because the mums, dads and little children of the tiny north coast community of Pottsville are currently struggling with the member for Tweed, Mr Geoff Provest,’ Mr Secord said.
‘Sadly, he has said there are not enough students to support the creation of a high school at Pottsville yet the local public schools are filled to the rafters.
‘I contend that there is a clear and demonstrable case for Pottsville to have a high school.
‘Pottsville is a growing community – and with a housing estate of more than 4,000 homes approved recently, is in need of a new high school.
‘Currently local students attend three high schools – spending between one hour and 20 minutes and two-and-a-half hours to travel to high schools in Kingscliff, Banora Point and Murwillumbah’, Mr Secord told parliament.
But Mr Provest said crown land was available for a Pottsville high school ‘but the reason we are not proceeding at this point in time is because it would have a negative impact on student services’.
He told Echonetdaily that local enrolment projections ‘show that there would not be enough students to maintain the subject range in the Tweed’s existing high schools should we open a new establishment’.
‘That is the advice I am getting from both the education department and local principals,’ he said.
Mr Provest said the recent state budget had allocated record funding to Tweed schools under the Gonski model, ‘including a $5 million upgrade for Pottsville Beach Public School, as promised in the 2015 election campaign’.
Early in March, the coalition government promised that if re-elected, it would fund the $5m upgrade to the primary school to cater for up to 1,000 students.
The announcement was made during a visit to the Tweed by education minister Adrian Piccoli, accompanied by Mr Provest.
But then Labor candidate for Tweed, Ron Goodman, slammed the announcement as a ‘stunt’ to distract focus away from the ‘eight years of broken promises made by Geoff Provest to the residents and families of the Tweed Coast on the important issue of getting a high school built at Pottsville’.
Mr Goodman said at the time that the decision by the coalition to ‘instead spend $40 million for a new high school in Ballina when that community has publicly rejected the need for one makes Geoff Provest’s betrayal of every family across our area even worse’.