Labor wants public schools carved

Daily Telegraph

By Linda Silmalis and Sharon Labi

April 12, 2009

SCHOOL playgrounds have been added to the long list of public assets the cash-strapped NSW Government is desperately trying to sell off to pay public servants' wages.

An internal Education Department strategy obtained by the State Opposition reveals high schools sitting on more than 6ha of land and primary schools on more than 3ha have been identified as possible cash cows.

"Land holdings in excess of the standard school site size - 3ha primary, 6ha secondary - are deemed to be surplus,'' it states.

The Education Department confirmed earlier this year its plan to sell off surplus school and TAFE land over the next three years - but only half of the $240 million proceeds will be ploughed back into new schools and other education capital works.

A memo by Education and Training director-general Michael Coutts-Trotter revealed the other 50 per cent would be used to pay police officers and nurses in a radical shift of scarce capital to short-term recurrent expenditure.

He also said there was no guarantee that a school would receive any proceeds from the sale of its land.

The school sell-off is part of a huge State Government fire sale of assets to plug an estimated $996 million black hole in its budget.

On the auction block are NSW Lotteries - which the Government hopes will raise more than $500 million - as well as the last 11 aged-care facilities owned by the State, which will raise as much as $26 million.

Other assets up for sale include the privatisation of the Cessnock and Parklea jails, three Manly JetCats and 20 retired State Transit buses ($4 million), 100 country teachers' houses and 165,000 railway sleepers ($3 million).

Treasury also hopes the sale of the State's electricity retailers - the "plan B'' version of Labor's bid to privatise the energy sector - will inject $6 billion into its coffers.

The Education Department document, entitled "Draft process strategy for the identification of surplus land for disposal - operating schools'', reveals agricultural schools with large land holdings, such as Hurlstone Agricultural High School, are not the only ones that will be targeted in the land sell-off.

It proposes reviewing schools with much smaller land holdings.

Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said the document put almost every school in NSW on notice.

"If one of the State's premier agricultural schools is not safe, no school is safe,'' Mr Piccoli said.

"This document puts every school on notice for future fire sales by the Government.''

Greens NSW MP John Kaye said selling school land to prop up the bottom line was a short-term measure that would disadvantage future generations.

"The Rees government is literally selling off the farm to pay the bills,'' Mr Kaye said last week. ``The loss of land atschools like Hurlstone is irreversible.''

A spokesman for Education Minister Verity Firth said guidelines were in place to ensure the decision to sell surplus land did not negatively affect delivery of schools' educational p rograms.