“When a school closes, it can kill a community”

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Susan Garrett is a TAFE student who lives in the small Gippsland town of Meeniyan. Her daughter, Liz, has just completed grade 6 at Meeniyan Primary School.

“I’ve lived here for five years. I’ve had four children go through the state school system. I’m a firm believer in consultation and parent involvement.

This year, Meeniyan and Dumbalk Primary Schools will have a hub/annex relationship. There are about 80 kids at Dumbalk, which is the smaller of the two schools. They initiated the move, because they were frightened they would be closed. I went to a meeting about it with the regional manager. He went on about ‘quality provision.’ They try to use those word to make it sound like it will be wonderful for us! I asked a number of questions, but he kept telling me that it is not political! Our local paper has started to get political now. They are getting very vocal on the issue of cuts and school closures.

The new arrangement means that the head teacher will have to be shared between the two schools. There will be time lost travelling. There are bound to be complications. The school tries to push the positives, like the capacity to share equipment. But the new setup means that Dumbalk has lost its self-sufficiency.

We are having troubles with the TAFE course, too. I don’t know yet if my course will be running at Leongatha this year. If it doesn’t, the alternative is to go to Newborough in the LaTrobe Valley. Lots of the current students have said if that happens, they’ll just drop out. I’m studying part-time. There are two students in my group studying full-time, but to get a full-time course, they have to study on different campuses. That is how things work in the country!

When a school closes, it can kill a community. Hayward closed the schools at Koonwarra, Outtrim, Yanakie and Mardan South. The kids go off on the bus, and the small communities lose their heart. The decision becomes a hard one to reverse, especially if they sell the school buildings. It is the same with the railway line. As well as closing it, they are pulling up the tracks. So if a later government decides that a railway is a viable and environmentally necessary thing, to re-open the service will cost heaps.

We need to organise broadly. Mass protest letter campaigns can be effective. We must talk more about the impact of the cuts. We can take more radical actions, like sleep-ins. This type of organising can be effective. We have a library computer at Leongatha TAFE as a result of our organising. It used to be just a courier service from the main campus, but we didn’t know what resources were available. It isn’t the letters themselves but the letters as a symbol of widespread organising and dissent.

I’m much more aware these days about what I can do. I don’t just accept things. Years ago my husband and I left our jobs and left the city and went to live in the sticks in search of a self-sufficient lifestyle. I now know that is no way to make any changes. To make changes, you’ve got to stick with it. You can’t just opt out. It has been a real learning experience for me.

The government tries to manipulate us to fight amongst ourselves for a slice of the pie. But city or country, we are fighting to defend state education.”

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