NSW priorities on school projects wrong

·3-min read

NSW Labor has accused the government of pork barelling, after an audit found election promises prioritised ahead of school projects needed to keep pace with enrolments.

Auditor-General Margaret Crawford on Thursday released a report concluding the agency responsible for implementing the state's strategic plan for school assets isn't prioritising the right projects.

School Infrastructure NSW (SINSW) was established in 2017 and Ms Crawford Crawford was tasked with assessing its effectiveness in the planning and delivery of classrooms to meet demand for public school education.

"School Infrastructure NSW has been focused on delivering existing projects, election commitments and other government announcements," she said.

"This has diverted attention from identifying and delivering projects that would have better met present and future student and classroom needs."

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay said the audit shows SINSW isn't living up to its sole purpose.

"Of the 97 schools that have been promised, only 16 to 17 of those, if we're lucky, are actually on the priority list," she told reporters on Friday.

"It's not only a pork barrelling of local government grants and emergency bushfire grants but the government appears to be pork barrelling schools."

The report also found the agency has not been planning far enough in advance, meaning the currently funded infrastructure program will not meet forecast classroom requirements for 2023 and beyond.

"Accordingly, it is vital that new funding is prioritised to projects which best meet demand," Ms Crawford said.

"Developing a longer-term pipeline of priorities would signal the areas of greatest need and allow greater scope to consider a range of options to best meet those needs."

The government knows where growth is and will occur, Ms McKay said, but simply isn't delivering for those communities.

"Kellyville Ridge Public School is 238 per cent over capacity, The Ponds High School is 160 per cent over capacity."

"We have skyrocketing enrolments and we have playgrounds that have been filled with demountables because this government is not planning for future enrolments."

However Education Minister Sarah Mitchell denied the report was damning.

She says the government in 2017 committed to undertake a massive school building project "to reverse decades of neglect" and SINSW was still refining processes in achieving that.

"What this report indicates to me is that we are delivering on what NSW needs," she said in a statement.

The audit also found several business cases for new or upgraded infrastructure underestimated costs and risks, leading to scope and budget increases.

NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos said the audit exposed a lack of planning and investment in public education.

"State and federal governments are funding private schools whilst failing to plan for and invest in public school infrastructure," Mr Gavrielatos said.

Ms Crawford recommended SINSW create a rolling 10-year list of priorities to meet forecast demand for new classrooms with the state Treasury.

The recommendations are already being addressed by SINSW, Ms Mitchell said, and are expected to be implemented by April 2022.