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Schools fight for their financial future

SCHOOL principals’ jobs are becoming tougher as the battle for financial survival becomes harder.

Independent schools have to find ways to fund their operations and any capital works developments they want to undertake.

They can gain some funding from the Federal Government, particularly if they operate on a low fee structure basis, but that will not help with capital works.

There is a Federal funding program for capital works but the need far outweighs available funding.

Even public schools are not immune to funding dilemmas. Australind Senior High School is reportedly more than $100,000 short of what it needs to offer key courses because parents of year 8,9 and 10 students won’t pay an annual $235 voluntary contribution.

Principals and school officials contacted by WA Business News agree education is a business.

However, they say the core product of that business – education – is an intangible product.

Despite the growing business pressures facing schools, there is still strong support for educationalists keeping the top jobs in schools.

The experiment of placing a business specialist in charge of a school has been tried, largely unsuccessfully, in the eastern states. However, this is a model that has been applied successfully in the US.

Perth College principal Judith Cottier said a good example of the financial pressures facing principals came in teaching students with disabilities.

“We have to make sure that student gets the best care and education possible, even though it may cost 10 times what it costs for an able-bodied student,” Ms Cottier said.

“The really good news is that every penny spent in the school is spent on the students.

“I have to make sure that if we get a new director of finance he or she understands the nuances of education. In some cases I have to work with them daily.”

Hale School principal John Inverarity said the focus of principals of independent schools and other educators was the quality of education that their school or university provides and the learning opportunities and development of their students.

“The passion to provide quality educations creates the need for an independent school to function well as a business,” Mr Inverarity said.

“In this ‘means to an end’ sense, an independent school must operate well as a business.”

Aquinas College board chairman Graham Goerke said he would hesitate to describe Aquinas as a business, but admitted the school was run along business lines.

“The school’s principal is the CEO but the board exercises full control over the financials,” Mr Goerke said.

Most independent schools have their principals backed by financially trained people, allowing them to concentrate on the big-picture issues of education and school management.

Scotch College marketing and business development director Campbell Bairstow said it was becoming more common for the principal to concentrate on big-picture issues.

“It’s more typical that a school will have a principal plus a head of senior school and a head of junior school,” Mr Bairstow said.

“That frees up the principal to concentrate on both business and education planning roles.

“However, the principal’s role is still very much an educational role.

“It’s the educational vision that school councils are looking for.”

Market share does not appear to be as much of an issue, particularly at the top-end of the school market.

“More concern is centred on being able to best serve the number of students the school already has than expanding that student base.

However, as the number of schools in Perth reaches saturation point, that may change. In the eastern states it is not uncommon to see advertisements for independent schools.

Fund-raising efforts for

these schools are moving away from the traditional cake bake and lamington drives and

more towards bequests and annual giving programs.

Scotch College marketing and business development director Campbell Bairstow said inde-pendent schools were becoming more inventive in their fund raising efforts.

“Some are doing it through making better use of their facilities, such as hosting conferences and the like,” Mr Bairstow said.

“We are working to build on relationships with supporters of the school such as parents or former students.

“Some have been extremely generous.

“Historically it has always been those people who will help.”

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