By ANN-MARIE MAY
COFFS COAST schools feel they have been short-changed hundreds of thousands of dollars, with principals fearful it will be our students who end up paying.
In 2004 the Federal Government made the election promise that public schools could apply for up to $150,000 over the four-year term of the Investing In Ours Schools program, to spend on computers, air-conditioning, classrooms and playgrounds.
According to documents released when the program began, schools could 'apply for as many projects that they consider high priority for their school up to the $150,000 limit'.
It was also stated that schools could 'choose to apply for grants for several small projects (on separate applications) or for one large individual project'.
Now, that amount has been reduced by a third.
Many schools along the Coffs Coast were shocked, and angry, to learn that the amount had been reduced to a maximum of $100,000 for government schools.
Coffs Harbour parent and State Councillor for the Federation of Parents and Citizens Association of NSW, Ian Muldoon, said the decision was 'absolutely disgraceful'.
"We are really bitterly disappointed," Mr Muldoon said.
"Some schools applied for $150,000 straight up and got the full amount.
"Others decided not to put all their eggs in one basket, planning and prioritising what they needed.
"Now, because of that, they have missed out."
Sawtell Public School principal, Michael Trist, has mixed feelings about the scheme.
"At Sawtell we received nearly $144,000 from the program. We have a fantastic new all-weather cover over our basketball court, and will install air-conditioning across the school later this year," he said.
"Fortunately we got in early. There are other schools right across the country who followed the published guidelines, but will now receive substantially less.
"As usual with Federal Government funding, the ground rules are different for private and public schools. "According to the Government's own website, individual non-government schools have received up to $3.1 million from this scheme, yet government schools are now being restricted to $100,000."
Another local principal, whose school has missed out on about $60,000, said he was left feeling embarrased and disappointed on learning the goal posts had been moved.
"We didn't rush in with our proposals, instead looking at what the school really needed," he said.
"At all times we were told that $150,000 would be available to all schools, so I told everyone not to panic, that we had time to decide what was really needed.
"We thought we were doing it (applying for grants in stages) responsibly and carefully.
"Because we have been careful, we missed out. This is the time when the tortoise lost the race.
"As well as being disappointed I feel embarrassed. As should the Government."
A number of other local principals have similar stories, with many planned projects having to be put on hold.