THE two primary schools are neighbours in Sydney’s west, but that’s where the similarities end. Both were allocated several million dollars through the federal government’s Building the Education Revolution program, but the private school’s ability to manage the projects appears to have paid handsome dividends.The public school spent about $2.8 million constructing four classrooms and refurbishing five other classrooms.At the private school, $3 million was spent on a new hall with stage, a covered outdoor learning area, a toilet block, two special learning areas, a multipurpose library including a soundproof room, a storage area, a staffroom, storage sheds, rainwater tanks, solar panels and an interactive whiteboard.Yesterday the NSW upper house inquiry into the program heard this was not an isolated case. There were other examples where cost blowouts, value for money and discrepancies between what schools wanted and what they got had become an issue.The head of the taskforce investigating the program across the country, Brad Orgill, said that fewer than 1 per cent of schools had complained.”In many cases it has clearly been successful in delivering value for money,” he said.”Has it delivered money in every case? No, I doubt that.”Mr Orgill said that there had been 209 complaints to the BER Taskforce, 129 from NSW.But representatives from the NSW Teachers Federation and the Public Schools Principals Forum said their experience with the program was not always positive.The chairwoman of the forum, Cheryl McBride, said that she had tried to get answers to her school’s budget and why a lift was included in the quote when it had not been built.”[The Education Minister, Verity Firth] has assured that this is the most transparent system in Australia – I can assure her it’s not,” she said. ”I don’t think there is a principal in NSW that has a definitive set of figures that can explain where the money’s gone.”The Education Department’s director-general, Michael Coutts-Trotter, who has responsibility for the NSW upgrades, defended the costs and said about 4 per cent of schools had not had a good experience.But he could not explain the different experiences of public schools compared with Catholic schools.”Some of the concerns that schools have expressed to us have been about the time [required] to make these decisions and also the scope of the choices,” he said.He denied schools and communities had not been engaged in the decision-making process and said that materials used in school buildings were to rigid specifications.The level of detail included ”specifying the type of mortar between bricks so that those bricks can be recycled at the end of the building’s life” and using ”two types of Australian hardwood from plantations that are certified as ecologically sustainable” and special drainage in the concrete slabs in halls, he said.Mr Coutts-Trotter conceded that there had been issues of communication between contractors and school principals.”The quality of communication has been variable,” he said.with AAP
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