School of the Air, camp cuts fight simmers

Tom Zaunmayr and Alicia PereraPilbara News
VideoThey waited until the day before school officially breaks up to make the announcement.

The Pilbara’s pastoral parents and camp custodians are shaping up for a scrap as tensions boil over at the State Government’s decision to shut down Schools of the Air and six camp schools, including Dampier’s.

The demise of SOTA was announced by Education Minister Sue Ellery during the last week of school this year and is among $64 million worth of cuts to education funding from 2019.

A day earlier, the State Government announced $68 million for a new school in Perth, though Ms Ellery has stated the two are not linked.

Jaclyn Nicholl has worked with camp schools in WA, including a seven-year stint with Dampier.

She said the decision to cut funding without consultation was disgraceful.

“It is a kick in the guts for regional WA, especially when they are injecting so much money into a new school in Perth,” she said.

“They haven’t been to these camp schools, the directors had no pre-notice, and it will result in jobs lost in the communities.

“It is a stupid decision and they need to backflip on it.”

Ms Nicholl said should the Dampier Camp School attract a private operator, fees would likely rise.

A rally has been scheduled for 10am today outside Pilbara MLA Kevin Michel’s Karratha office to protest against the cuts.

Mr Michel said tough decisions had to be made to get WA’s finances back on track. “Our families in the bush have always been very close to my heart, so this decision does sadden me a lot, but it is something that has to be done,” he said.

“With our State’s finances in tatters, and the Opposition refusing to work with us on sensible cost-saving measures, we just can’t afford to have duplication.”

Cheela Plains Station owner Robin Pensini put four boys through Port Hedland School of the Air.

She said the School of Isolated and Distance Education would not have the same level of intimacy as the existing system.

“You just get chills all over your whole body because you know what SOTA has done for your family and to think that might disappear for families in the future is really shocking,” she said.

“The kids are sitting at the desk in front of the computer and they have a friend (somewhere else in the Pilbara) at the same time.

“What’s going to happen if they’re put on SIDE? They’re going to be in a classroom with kids from all over the State.”

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