BY KYLE HUWALDT
A vital educational not-for-profit organization operating out of Glebe Public School has just been slapped with a new licensing agreement by the Department of Education (DoE), which is demanding it pay $31,000/yr rent to the State Government. The OSHC (Out of School Hours Care) program is called Centipede.
Because Centipede catered to many families who struggled to pay its fees, Centipede ran an annual fundraiser to help pay for its employees and operational costs.
Those operational costs spiked significantly when the DoE demanded that the program’s $1 per annum peppercorn rent be increased – to an annual $31,000.
The move to generate revenue from an OSHC educational program has received a backlash from scholars, politicians, parents ad concerned citizens alike.
“It is stupid and short sighted to judge a service by the status of some kids, there is no doubt that they serve needy kids. If [Centipede] drops out, some [kids] are likely to get into trouble without the support the centre provides,” said Eva Cox, a long-term Glebe resident and a professor at the UTS Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research.
It is evident that the families of Glebe Public School are just as enraged that this important program has been turned into a source of revenue for the government.
“This is a massive blow to the kids in need. It is a massive blow to the school. It will undermine the school culture of making sure all kids are looked after – and not in a segregated manner,” explains Maire Sheehan, a member of the Glebe P&C, a grandparent of Glebe Public School and former mayor of Leichhardt Council.
The program ran in conjunction with similar services hosted by the Glebe P&C, who say the Centipede program helped integrate the school into the surrounding community in an immensely positive way
“This decision will mean Centipede will no longer be able to afford to run its service for our school community… It will be a detrimental social outcome if Centipede is forced to close its doors. The P&C will fight this decision all the way,” said Verity Firth, President of the Glebe Public P&C and Executive Director of the UTS Social Justice Department, and former NSW Minister of Education.
The issue of the Centipede program closing its doors because of financial pressure has also garnered plenty of political attention, especially with crucial state elections coming up in two weeks’ time.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said, “Given the rapidly increasing population in the City of Sydney, school funding must keep pace to allow our inner city schools to continue delivering for our communities”.
She makes the point that others both in State Government and in the Glebe P&C have made, namely that the DoE is trying to make money from a not-for-profit community-led program, but is not willing to spend the money to keep up with education development in increasingly populated districts such as Pyrmont and Ultimo.
The State Opposition has criticised the Department’s actions.
Jihad Dib, the State Shadow Minister of Education, does not support the DoE’s move.
“I am troubled to hear of the dramatic rent increase imposed by the Department of Education. In government I would work with the local community to renegotiate the arrangement. We don’t want to see such a valuable organisation forced to close due to financial stress.”
Minor parties have also cashed in on the Liberals’ political blunder.
“This is clearly unacceptable. I’ve spoken directly to the Department and there are ongoing talks between the P&C, the school and the Department. I’ve attended fundraisers and helped the Centre obtain grant funding and this is unacceptable,” insisted State MP for Balmain, incumbent Greens candidate Jamie Parker.
Helping struggling families
The political weight that the story holds has not only grabbed the attention of state candidates and officials, but has received political consideration on a federal level.
“This tells you all you need to know about the priorities of the NSW Liberals: they are ripping off a community-run school food program while they waste taxpayer money on knocking down and rebuilding perfectly good stadiums,” said Tanya Plibersek, a Labor member and Shadow Minister for Education and Training.
When asked to comment, a DoE spokesperson said, “The Department of Education is in the process of negotiating a new licence agreement for this OSHC service… The breakfast program is an additional service provided by Centipede and does not form part of its OSHC licence”.
Centipede’s early educational services help these struggling families receive an effective education for their kids so that those same impoverished children might rise above their current socio-economic situation and in turn provide a better life for generations to come.