'As good Catholics, we make every cent count'

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11 May 2017

By Greg Brown

Our Lady Help of Christians principal Philip Cachia has warned fees at the primary school in Melbourne’s inner north could more than double under proposedPrincipal Philip Cachia with students. Picture: Aaron Francis, The Australian changes to school funding.

He said fees at the East Brunswick Catholic school would increase from $2,000 a year per family to $4,600 to make up the funding shortfall.

The other option would be to reduce teacher numbers, which would increase class sizes, while the school would have to slash four of its six specialist subjects, which include music, Italian, sport and computer studies.

Mr Cachia said children would be forced to leave the school that, over eight years, had grown from 163 to about 315.

'It is going to decimate this population when I know that 17 per cent of our families have a healthcare card, they live on government benefits and they are not going to be able to afford $4600 a year,' Mr Cachia said. 'People will not want to leave but will be forced to leave through pure financial reasons.

'I can understand (the changes) if parents are paying $30,000 a year ... but we shouldn’t be having to force people to choose a state school if they are seeking a Catholic education.'

He said any shift of Catholic students to public schools would put more pressure on inner-city state schools.

The government’s school funding calculator, released yesterday, shows the school receives $1,664,200 this year, increasing by $59,800 next year to $1,724,000.

In 2027, its funding will rise to $2,326,800. Total federal funding over the decade is $20,154,100, an increase of $3,512,100.

Each student currently receives $5,717 in federal funding, which will increase to $5,922 and $7,993 in 2027.

Our Lady Help of Christians performs above average in every NAPLAN result and is regarded as being above average on socio- economic advantage. But Mr Cachia said the school would be unfairly judged by its postcode, given the gentrifying area retains pockets of housing commission.

'We draw kids from the housing commission in North Fitzroy, we draw kids from Preston and Sunshine,' he said. 'We get slammed on the current needs-based formula; this new one is just impossible. As good Catholics, we make every cent count, every single cent count.'

Mr Cachia said any increase next year in funding was unlikely to cover the additional cost of teachers’ wages following on from the Victorian government agreement with state teachers.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said last week the school would actually get more money under the changes. But Mr Cachia said the government was wrong, noting that Catholic Education Melbourne had said its funding would be slashed.

This article was originally published in The Australian on 10 May 2017.