The Illawarra's education community is reeling at the NSW government's decision to cut $1.7 billion out of the state's education system.
After a week of speculation about funding cuts at independent schools, Education Minister Adrian Piccoli yesterday unveiled his plan to save $201 million this financial year and $1.7 billion over four years by making sweeping cuts to public schools and TAFE NSW and capping funding of private schools.
Mr Piccoli revealed he would cut 600 support positions in state and regional education offices, phase out 400 school administration positions by 2015 and cut 800 TAFE positions over the next four years.
In addition, he said NSW funding for Catholic and private schools would be capped at current levels for the next four years to deliver savings of $116 million and TAFE fees would rise by 9.5 per cent from January next year.
Mr Piccoli said his "tough decisions" were designed to ensure the state's education budget remained sustainable.
NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Nicole Calnan said teacher in the Illawarra were shocked by the NSW government's announcement.
"We had no idea this was coming - it's a disgrace and it means that no student's education is safe," she said.
Vital support teachers and education consultants at the Illawarra and South East regional office were likely to be affected by job cuts, she said.
"These are people who help develop teaching resources and professional development and provide assistance for teachers dealing with difficult students.
"With these budget cuts, teachers and principals are going to be left to decide on a local level what they and their students will have to do without," Ms Calnan said.
Primary Principals Association president and Albion Park Public School principal Jim Cooper said he was expecting the cuts, but was still devastated by the government's decision. He said the job cuts would likely lead to an increased workload for principals and teachers.
Wollongong Diocese director of schools spokesman Tim Gilmour said news of a funding cap for non-government schools was preferable to earlier rumours that Catholic schools faced $67 million in funding cuts.
"A freeze means we are better off than what we thought yesterday, but it's still a great challenge for us and a great concern for us because, while our funding will be frozen for the next four years, our costs certainly won't be," Mr Gilmour said.
Keira MP Ryan Park said he was appalled by the announcement that represented the biggest attack on education in over 20 years. "All politicians have to make their own priorities, but one of the things that most parties value is education," Mr Park said.
Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett also condemned the cuts yesterday, saying it was "unacceptable" for the NSW government to cut funding just days after agreeing to work with the federal government on the Gonski school funding reform.