Labor backs hiring of school facilities in Illawarra

The sports fields, halls and computer centres of Illawarra public schools would be made more easily accessible to paying visitors under new Labor policy to maximise use of the facilities outside of school hours.

School principals are already free to lease their facilities for set prices, but some remain reluctant to take on the associated administration, or are seldom approached by their communities.

The arrangements are the subject of a discussion paper released recently by NSW Labor leader John Robertson and shadow minister for education Keira MP Ryan Park.

The document is an appeal to school principals - particularly those with fruitful leasing arrangements - for information on what works and what doesn't.

NSW schools raise about $17 million a year by hiring out facilities and equipment, but arrangements - and income - vary widely between schools.

In 2012 Bondi Beach Public collected $199,300 by leasing facilities to the public. Warilla North Public, banking $38,258, was the Illawarra's highest earner.

Meanwhile, Corrimal High School made $621 and Figtree Public collected just $364.

Paul Brightwell, principal at Figtree Public, told the Mercury the "very detailed" associated paperwork had deterred him from pursuing hire arrangements.

In the past, dance lessons at the school had attracted young male hangers-on with skateboards, and toilets were left unclean. A church group did not honour the agreed fee; a judo group caused damage to flooring and again left the toilets dirty and a soccer field - soft from recent rain - was chewed up and a goal bar bent to the point students could no longer use it.

"And you do all this for a very small monetary gain, usually only about $50 a week if you're lucky," Mr Brightwell said.

"Apart from those few schools who hold markets [especially in Sydney] and receive huge money, principals have enough to deal with during school hours."

Austinmer Public leases sporting fields to for-profit groups, while not-for-profit netball and cricket groups have been allowed to use the grounds for free.

It has a permanent, paying agreement with after-school care providers Big Fat Smile, and has been used for dance classes, sports group registration days, a commemorative funeral service and as a back-up venue for a wedding and community Christmas carols.

Austinmer principal Paul Petersen said income from hire arrangements was about $3500 in 2013, and was increasing.

"I am only the custodian of this facility and ... it is my responsibility to see that it is used as often as practically possible," he said.

Corrimal High School principal Mark King saw more hire agreements as a way of safeguarding the school outside of hours.

"The more people use our facilities, the more our facilities are protected. Otherwise [the school] is a dark, empty place at night," he said.


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