Elite school parents are demanding fee discounts as learning moves online during the coronavirus pandemic – and have been shocked to learn of staff layoffs.
Elite school parents are demanding fee discounts as learning moves online during the coronavirus pandemic – and have been shocked to learn of staff layoffs.

Should school fees be reduced during pandemic?

PRIVATE schools are refusing to reduce fees despite moving online amid the coronavirus lockdown, with some laying off staff to cut costs in a move that has outraged parents.

A parent at prestigious Brisbane Anglican Church Grammar School said it was "nothing short of disgusting" that while parents paid over $20,000 in fees, there would be no reduction despite moving to remote learning, and only payment plans for those who have lost jobs.

"There is a lot more we pay within our school fees than just education," they said.

"How can the school justify charging full fees when they won't be incurring some expenses?"

Churchie headmaster Alan Campbell said the school needed to be flexible to help some families cope with the financial impacts of COVID-19.

Other schools, including Hillcrest Christian College on the Gold Coast and John Paul College at Daisy Hill, have started laying off staff as cash-strapped parents stop paying fees.

Hillcrest has stood down about 30 staff, and other staff have been told they may need to take a pay cut, angering the private schools union which says the action is premature.

John Paul College at Logan
John Paul College at Logan

Parents of students at John Paul College, who pay fees up to $10,600 for primary students and up to $13,980 for secondary students, were reeling after learning savings were being made through staff cuts.

A source said John Paul College had told casual workers they were no longer required, asked teacher aides to take annual leave or long service leave.

Principal Karen Spiller said the school wanted to support parents who suffered genuine hardship during COVID-19, and the school would do whatever it could to help them.

"Teacher aides are being redeployed," she said.

Hillcrest principal Jeff Davis said the school's $30 million annual budget was under pressure as parents lost work and struggled to pay fees.

Mr Davis said the school had moved to online learning and many students would not start school next term so bus drivers, canteen staff, sports staff, some cleaners and ground staff have been stood down until school starts so our budget balances.

"All private schools are doing the same," he said.

Mr Davis told a staff meeting this week some of the $17 million the college receives in government subsidies was at risk.
He said the college, which normally ran on a $1 million annual surplus, would have a zero bank balance this year, and faced a $1.2 million deficit with staff costs chewing up about $22 million of the annual budget.
Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said all employers were making difficult decisions in uncertain times.
But Independent Education union Queensland secretary Terry Burke said this was an unnecessary pre-emptive strike.
"They (schools) continue to receive significant government funding, which is a significant part of the overall budget," he said.

"It's arguable there are going to be significant enrolment losses, so from our point of view they are getting ahead of that.
"There are active conversations with the Federal Government around employment in schools."


Originally published as Should school fees be reduced during pandemic?