The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has decided that in this time of financial uncertainty that stimulus money should be spent - and spent rather quickly. Although I'm not sure that improving schools was not the motivation, no one I know is complaining that we are the beneficiaries of some major spending for ... well, the first time I can remember in my teaching career. Mainly primary schools are the recipients of the BER money and I'm in the unusual but possibly not unique position of having a say and seeing how two schools address this opportunity. My own school (where I work) qualifies for $3 million for a major project and the school where my kids go will have a $2.5 million windfall.
An APPA letter emailed out to schools today reveals the priority the government has for this "revolution":
The Commonwealth has clearly identified priorities. They are:
2) Multipurpose halls (could be large covered areas, or have a capacity for sport or performing arts).
3) Classroom block / replacement of demountables.
4) Refurbishment of hall/library/classroom block building or another building.
5) If school has all of the above, negotiations may include early childhood centres but they must be an integrated part of a primary school and childcare must not be a major part of the role.
But as usual, there are catches because the PM wants all of this to stimulate the economy now, speed is of the essence. Decisions about what schools will want need to be made by mid-March with the first priority choice projects starting constrcution by mid-year. To speed things along, schools have been given plans and details of recent pre-existing buildings with the theory that these will need the minimum of planning approvals and can be partially pre-fabricated en masse. So if a school in South Australia wants a new Resource Centre / Library, there is a choice to be made - choice A or choice B, photos from existing DECS sites and plans on CD-ROM. But as my principal points out, you can do what you like with the interior so the lack of choice for the exterior isn't such a big deal. What is a big deal is the opportunity to get a major building project done in a comparatively short timeframe with money available that I've not seen at any stage in my teaching career. So principals are canvassing staff and parents, attending roadshow events - our premier Mike Rann called a day event at the Adelaide Convention Centre and invited principals and Governing Council reps to unveil all of this.
I actually get to have my say in two venues - one as a staff member at the school of my employment and as a Governing Council member at my children's school. I fired off my opinion to my kids' principal and fellow GC members. This also represents one of the only chance for schools to get rid of those dreadful portable buildings that seem to plague so many sites in this state - miss the boat on this one and if a school goes to the state government at a future time to talk about replacing these furnace/freezer boxes (depending on the season) that I currently teach in, they'll be saying, "You had your chance with the BER money." I'd love to see a wireless "21st Century style" Resource Centre at both schools that I have close links to - and the long term pipe dreams can actually become a reality within the next three years in the schools can look past the compromises that need to be brokered. Still, unless you are a well financed private school (and they get their cut of the stimulus money but don't get me started on that) then compromising on the ideal is something public educators are already well used to.