The Sydney schools making a fortune from their playgrounds
More than 700 projects that public schools will pay for with their own fundraising money are stuck in a backlog in the NSW Department of Education, with some schools waiting more than a year for approval to spend their money on much-needed upgrades.
A new NSW Auditor-General’s report on sharing school and community facilities says there are “significant delays” in approving $56 million worth of projects that schools will pay for themselves with money raised through leasing their playgrounds and classrooms to community groups.
Many NSW schools make significant money through allowing yoga classes, farmers’ markets, church meetings and before or after-school care to use their buildings and playgrounds. Education Minister Rob Stokes is keen for more sharing of community assets.
The latest figures show Lane Cove West Public made $412,634 in 2016, followed by Bondi Beach Public ($360,351), Randwick Public ($269,094) and Glebe ($246,634).
Other bigger earners include Orange Grove ($225,450), Narraweena ($204,603) and Kellyville Ridge ($203,409) public schools.
Most of the highest-earning schools make their money through weekend markets but the audit report says others, such as Sydney Boys High at Moore Park, rely on special event car parking as a major source of funds. In 2016, Sydney Boys’ made almost $78,000 from the use of its grounds.
Schools use the money from leasing their facilities in a range of ways, from extra teaching resources to refurbishing school infrastructure, including new playgrounds or outdoor covered learning areas. Projects over $30,000 need to go to tender, a process managed and approved by the Education Department.
But the report says there are a substantial number of school-funded projects in each school district awaiting approval. Comparatively few have been approved.
In the North Sydney district, there were 134 projects worth $14 million waiting for approval at the beginning of the year. But between January and August, just 16 projects were approved, leaving 118 applications outstanding, with a value of $13 million.
“This represents funds raised by schools through sharing facilities or other fundraising activities, but which cannot be used to provide improved facilities until the approval process is completed,” the report says.
“Some proposals have been waiting for approval for more than 12 months.”
The report said the department does not know when the applications were submitted “as this information has not been retained”, but staff confirmed the delay and backlog.
A spokesman for the department said it had accepted all the auditor-general’s recommendations in the report, including to improve support to principals to reduce the backlog of school-initiated infrastructure proposals awaiting approval.
Earlier this year Mr Stokes said he wanted more sharing of facilities between public schools and the community, including schools using community assets like parks and playing fields.
He said “innovative shared-use agreements” could help the government provide the new schools required for the predicted 164,000 new students expected in public schools by 2031, especially in inner-city areas.
“Shared use of school, council and community resources can help meet this demand,” Mr Stokes said.
Potential future shared-use agreements being negotiated include one between Chatswood High and Willoughby Council for a synthetic sports field and another between Ku-ring-gai Council and St Ives High for an indoor sports and community centre.
“Managed carefully, shared-use agreements are a win-win for the community and the school,” Mr Stokes said.