The New South Wales Education Department has denied controversial changes to school enrolment areas in the Queanbeyan suburb of Jerrabomberra were arbitrary or made due to staff shortages.
It was announced on Thursday that students living north of Edwin Land Parkway, including those in Jerrabomberra Heights, would be unable to enrol at the Jerrabomberra Public School and soon-to-be built Jerrabomberra High School.
Southern parts of the suburb, which are currently under development, are also outside the proposed boundaries.
The department has since agreed to review the enrolment boundaries after residents expressed their anger and the local state MP intervened.
Jerrabomberra Residents’ Association president Margot Sachse said Thursday’s announcement had left parents in shock.
“With no consultation, they dropped the bombshell on the Jerrabomberra community that our suburb would be divided in half,” she said.
“Residents who had purchased in the ‘heights’ will have to have their kids sent to schools in Queanbeyan and not their local school.
“We believe it’s just somebody in Sydney who does not really understand how our community operates and there are alternatives to consider to make this all work.”
‘I can see the school from our house’
Second generation Jerrabomberra resident Kristen Cusack said she and her partner purchased their property on the understanding their daughter could attend the nearby school when she finishes preschool.
“I can see the school: [from our house]it’s about a 15-minute walk, “Ms Cusack said.
“But now I will be putting a child in a car or a bus to take to school.”
If her children aren’t able to attend schools in Jerrabomberra, Ms Cusack said she would have to try to enroll them in schools across the border in the ACT.
“I work in Canberra so I like to be able to drop my children off in my local community,” she said.
“[My daughter’s] grandparents live in Jerrabomberra as well, and they often pick her up from preschool, and the plan was that they would be picking her up from school as well. ”
Ms Cusack’s father, Matthew Kelly, said splitting the community was “manifestly unfair”.
“My wife and I are nearly retired and we’re very much looking forward to being able to pick those kids up and for those kids to be able to come to our place after school while their parents work long hours,” he said.
“Why should … [those] who have lived here for more than 30 years, be so adversely and emotionally affected by the decision? ”
‘Inadequate’ consultation; change not finalized:
New South Wales Education Department School Performance deputy secretary Murat Dizdar said the changes weren’t arbitrary.
“This is quite a normal process when new schools come online,” Mr Dizdar said.
“We have new schools coming online at Googong Public School, Jerrabomberra High School and Bungendore High School and whenever you bring new schools online – which is a great fillip for a local community – you have to make adjustments to the intake areas.
“We did consult with all the surrounding principals so we could ensure that each school was maximized and optimized and took into account the new schools coming on board.”
But newly-elected Nationals MP Nichole Overall said consultation had been inadequate.
“The proposed changes had not been presented to me to be able to review them,” Ms Overall said.
“Once it was brought to my attention I immediately went to the minister and the Department of Education to say that it was not going to be suitable or acceptable for our community.
“The minister has listened to me immediately, and has assured me that we are reviewing them and reworking them.
“They will be presented to the community for their consultation to make sure that it is going forward in a way that is in our best interests down here.”
Mr Dizdar confirmed the changes were not set in stone.
“We acknowledge as a department that we’ve already had feedback from the community that want some adjustments and considerations taken into account,” he said.
“We are committed to consulting with the community around finalizing those boundary adjustments.”
Changes not due to staff shortages, says department:
The New South Wales government has faced significant criticism from the state’s teachers’ union for their handling of regional schools with educators recently walking off the job at two campuses in Queanbeyan over staff shortages.
Ms Overall said the issue had been “politicized”.
“We have to be able to find a path forward,” she said.
“It’s fine to try to create division and confusion in the community for personal agenda but we have to be able to find solutions and work through this.
“I’ve been advised that seven additional staff were provided to the schools here in Queanbeyan during the last week and that will occur, as I understand, up until the end of the term to try to be able to provide those supports.”
Mr Dizdar denied staffing shortages had been a factor in the decision to change enrolment boundaries in Jerrabomberra.
“The staffing component does not come into deciding what an enrolment boundary looks like,” he said.
“An enrolment boundary is really determined by advice that we get from our demographers in the department who work on population projections and existing population in an area.”