THE man charged with rebuilding NSW public schools admits the state government’s $3.4 billion share of Commonwealth funds could have been better spent had he been given greater control of the program and greater flexibility in distributing funding between public schools.Robert Leece, the infrastructure co-ordinator-general for the NSW National Building and Jobs Plan Taskforce, said the Catholic school system had been more efficient at distributing funding between schools than the more rigid government system.Mr Leece said public schools would have had better value for money under the Building the Education Revolution program if it had been administered in the way used for the Catholic schools, which had centrally pooled funds.”The Catholic system is the ideal way of running a program like this,” Mr Leece said.He said there were only 104 ”disgruntled” schools that had complained after the delivery of 2386 government primary school projects under the federal government’s $16.2 billion program.The program delivered new classrooms, libraries, halls and outdoor learning areas. Of the schools that complained, 20 had serious issues and the remainder took up ”very minor issues”, he said.Among the complainants was Hastings Public School, at Port Macquarie. In its initial application for funds to the Commonwealth, the NSW Department of Education estimated the cost of new classrooms at $2.5 million and a covered outdoor learning area at $400,000.After contractors visited the school to make a more detailed assessment, the cost for the 803-square-metre covered area was estimated at $940,000.The final tender price for the area was closer to $720,000 for a streel structure, concrete netball court, special lighting, acoustics, disabled access, insulation and retaining walls with a balustrade.A smaller construction at the school had cost than $100,000 in 2003. It was 522 square metres in size, with sheet metal cladding on a prefabricated steel frame.Mr Leece described media reports about the costings as ”hot air”, adding that the school principal had changed his mind about wanting the covered netball court and opted for two more classrooms.Rejecting claims that the Howard government’s $1.1 billion Investing in our Schools program provided better value for money for public schools because the Commonwealth had funded schools directly, Mr Leece said the project management process had allowed for bulk purchasing of building supplies.”We are doing it far more efficiently than John Howard ever did it because we have the economies of scales for management costs,” Mr Leece said.Stephen O’Doherty, who heads Christian Schools Australia, said the positive experience of independent schools under the program ”contrasts with many of those in state schools”.”It raises an important policy issue [that it is] better to provide management of projects as close as possible to the local level. That way school communities get to have a very direct oversight of their project; they get what they want,” he said.Dan White, who heads the system of mainstream Sydney Catholic schools, said: ”Part of our secret was that we weren’t trying to put predesigned building in school communities without thoroughly consulting them in the first place.”Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools, said the program had been better value than the Investing in Our Schools program because funds were managed at the school site.
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