Hunter school maintenance backlog will take decades to fix

FALLING BEHIND: Hunter Sports High School has the largest infrastructure backlog in the Hunter, according to figures seized upon by the Labor Party.
FALLING BEHIND: Hunter Sports High School has the largest infrastructure backlog in the Hunter, according to figures seized upon by the Labor Party.

HUNTER children entering kindergarten in 2017 will be old enough to have their own kids in school by the time the state’s education maintenance backlog is caught up, new figures reveal.

Labor has accused the Berejiklian government of failing “a generation of children” after documents released under freedom of information laws revealed there is $775 million in outstanding maintenance on the state’s schools.

In the Hunter, there are 19 schools with more than $1 million in outstanding work, including $2.1 million at the Hunter Sports High School in the Charlestown electorate, and $1.9 million at Rutherford High School in Maitland.

But the government has allocated just $65 million in 2017 to address the backlog, and for some schools it will take decades to catch up if current funding arrangements remain in place.

At Waratah West Public School in Wallsend, for example, the current maintenance backlog is $720,000, but only $22,200 has been allocated to the problem this year. Based on those figures it would take 33 years – long enough for a child entering kindergarten in 2017 to see their own children finish year 12 – before it was caught up.

Labor’s shadow education minister Jihad Dib the government had a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to fix the problem.

“This is a government that loves to gloat about its budget surplus,” he said.

“It’s time to stop boasting and spend some money on building schools and repairing the ones that need it.”

The NSW education department defended its maintenance policies, saying backlog “reflects the estimated cost of current and future repair work required to ensure buildings continue to perform at an acceptable level”.

A spokesman said the most recent state budget included $330 million across two years to address backlog maintenance items.

“While individual schools will still have backlog maintenance items that will need to be addressed in the future, this funding will reduce the backlog maintenance across the government school system,” he said.

NSW Teachers Federation Hunter organiser Jack Galvin Waight said the backlog was “a long standing issue” in the Hunter.

“The state government simply has to prioritise capital works funding and maintenance backlogs in our schools,” he said.

“Roads and infrastructure are important but so are our students and teachers.”

Education Minister Rob Stokes released a draft policy on Saturday designed to streamline approvals for building schools, and said he wanted to build at least a dozen new schools a year.

“The state government needs to lift its game on this matter and prioritise the building of new schools and the maintenance of existing ones.”

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said it was “disappointing that this Government is letting our children down in the very important area of education”.

“As a father of four children who will be attending public schools, it concerns me that there are such long backlogs in the maintenance of our schools,” he said.