Anger over ‘snub’

Specialist Teacher Shane Spence with Students Daniel (with the phone) and Alistair. The students celebrated the 1000th episode of their ME TV in 2015. 145626_02

By Peter Douglas

Yarra Ranges Special Developmental School’s parents and school council have been left feeling dejected and angered after again missing out on state funds.

The Victorian Government unveiled its State Budget on Monday 30 April, with many schools around the Yarra Ranges securing funding windfalls.

Special schools around the state, too, have fared relatively well, with the Andrews Government announcing multi-million promises to numerous large facilities, including the Niddrie Campus of the Western Autistic School, the Wangaratta District Specialist School and the Traralgon Education Regeneration Project.

However, the Mount Evelyn-based school has missed out, despite comprising almost entirely of portable classrooms.

Parent and School Council Vice President, Emily Withers, said the students deserve better.

“The school buildings were meant to be temporary structures back when they were built in the 1970s, yet it’s still here, as other schools are awarded funds for upgrades,” she said.

“The only bricks and mortar building we have is the Early Years Centre, which acts as the facade of the school.

“I’m angry and something needs to be done. It’s not about the politics; it’s about what’s good for the children … and this isn’t good enough.”

Ms Withers has three children who attend the school; Tyler, 11, Hayden, 8, and Sarah, 6.

All children have an undiagnosed genetic disorder and are non-verbal.

“My daughter has 12 years to go at the school and we’d like to see some positive change,” she said.

“They attend a mainstream school one day per week, and there is a big difference between the schools, in terms of facilities and even atmosphere.”

Before the announcement, a Master Plan had been prepared for the construction of new buildings for the school.

The plan includes separate buildings for junior, middle and senior years; as well as play-spaces for the students.

Shadow Minister for Education, Tim Smith, told the ‘Mail’ he’ll be working with the school in the lead-up to the election, also visiting the site on Monday 7 April.

“We’re meant to be the education state, but this seems to be merely a slogan,” he said.

“I’ll be meeting with the school and parents. We’re in the process of developing election pledges, but I’m keen to have a good look around the school.”

Meanwhile, both Ms Withers and School Council president, Jenny Hall, penned a letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

“Yarra Ranges SDS … has been contacting the Minister for Education on a regular basis pleading for substantial capital works funding to address the appalling state of our school buidings,” the letter read.

“We were promised a paltry $500,000 in mid-2017, which has been used for the development of a master plan, as well as a new build of an administration building. This was the only thing we could build, given our funding limitations.

“Our students and their families already endure the indignity of poor financial health, poor personal health and – in the majority of cases – divorce and split families. 35% of our families are single-parent families in the 2018 school year alone; 47% of our families are in receipt of the Camps, Spots and Excursion funding.

“We seek to provide the best possible education to their children, using the latest and proven approaches to special education while simultaneously providing their parents with advice and support.”

In response to pleas, Monbulk MP and Minister for Education, James Merlino said the Labor Government hadn’t ignored the school.

“We invested $500,000 in the 2017-18 Victorian Budget for Yarra Ranges Special Developmental School to upgrade and modernise its facilities,” Mr Merlino said.

“The proposed works include building new general purpose classrooms, administration and learning spaces and a cafe, as well as removing two portables.

“In mid-2017, we appointed Hede Architects to work with the school on numerous design stages, including developing the floor plans, elevations and sections.”

Mr Merlino said the Victorian School Building Authority and the school are determining the finer details such as materials and finishes, the landscape plan and engineering, electrical and structural elements.

“It is anticipated that construction will commence in mid-2018, with works being complete by mid-2019,” he said.

“We are delivering an unprecedented 70 new school projects across Victoria through an investment of more than $3.8 billion as part of the Education State.

“This includes the biggest investment in Yarra Ranges schools in the area’s history.”

Mr Merlino said the Government will continue to work with the school on their infrastructure needs and will consider future funding as part of the usual budget processes.

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