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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (28 May) . . Page.. 726 ..

Voluntary School Fees

MR RUGENDYKE: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Education, Mr Stefaniak. Minister, the issue of voluntary school fees in the ACT has been raised in the media this week. The principal of Monash Primary School, Mr Owen Savage, wrote in the school newsletter:

Your poor response to the provision of voluntary student resource payments has meant that a number of classes do not have funds to purchase needed resources.

What is the Government's position on voluntary fees, and do you condone pressure being applied to the parents by Mr Savage?

MR STEFANIAK: I thank the member for the question. I think if you read on there that issue has been taken up, clarified and finalised, Mr Rugendyke. Basically, the Government, as a result of a fairly extensive investigation into this a couple of years ago, has a position that the fees are voluntary. That is meant to be made known in terms of any documentation that goes out. But, of course, parents are encouraged to pay. They form a very important part of schooling, Mr Rugendyke. Indeed, we have found in the past that schools which list exactly what the money is spent on tend to get a pretty good response from parents, and that is very important in terms of getting fees in.

There have been, from time to time, some problems in terms of some parents thinking that some documentation that has gone out is more coercive than just explanatory in terms of what the fees are for. When those issues have been brought to my attention I have taken steps to ensure that the situations have been rectified. The department has about three or four different pro forma letters to assist schools in terms of various types of fees that are collected under the voluntary contribution program, and they are readily available to schools. When issues such as this crop up the departmental officials will go out and help sort it out in the school community. To date I think they have done a particularly good job in doing that when people feel they are being coerced, which does happen from time to time.

MR RUGENDYKE: I have a supplementary question, Mr Speaker. Given that answer, do you plan either to write to or to have the department contact Mr Savage about the savage manner in which he has addressed parents at the school in relation to voluntary fees?

MR STEFANIAK: My understanding is that some steps have already been taken, Mr Rugendyke. I will check and see. If any further steps need to be taken I will do so. I do stress, however, that I think it is important that people realise that these fees do play an important part in any school. Some schools tend to rely more on things like raffles and fundraisers like that, but for certain things a lot of schools do rely very heavily on voluntary contributions, and they have been in our system for many years.

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