THE social costs of losing small schools from regional areas, including Wollombi Public School, aren’t given sufficient consideration alongside the savings the government can pocket from shutting them, an inquiry has been told.
The Isolated Children’s Parents Association and Cessnock City Council have also criticised the level of consultation the Department of Education carries out before deciding the fate of a school, in submissions to a parliamentary inquiry looking into the government’s handling of the closures.
Under scrutiny are its decisions to shut Wollombi and Martins Creek School and review a string of others.
The inquiry will hold a public hearing in Sydney next Thursday.
Chairman and Christian Democrat MP Paul Green said he expected residents affected by the Martins Creek closure, which has six students and is slated to shut at the end of the year, would give evidence. Bureaucrats will also be called.
The Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association said the loss of rural schools had social costs that weren’t adequately considered, and communities were sceptical that savings from closing their schools benefited city schools over others in regional areas.
A department spokesman said its resource allocation model ensured schools taking over enrolments from one that had closed were ‘‘resourced appropriately and equitably’’.
Cessnock City Council told the inquiry the department conducted ‘‘minimal consultation’’ with it before closing the historic Wollombi school. The council could have provided an ‘‘understanding of the importance of the school for that community’’.
In an unusual move, Korean miner KEPCO has also made a submission, pushing its proposed mine in the Bylong Valley as an opportunity to boost the number of enrolments at Bylong Upper Public School.
‘‘The project provides a unique opportunity to arrest the decline in population which has been occurring in the Bylong Valley since the 1980s,’’ it said.