Student lead call for works

Friday April 12, 2024

SCHOOL children are leading the way in advocating for better facilities with Melaleuca Park Primary School student leaders being acknowledged in state parliament.

The students made a presentation to Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell calling for better toilet facilities after a school camp in Adelaide.

While on their visit in the metropolitan area, students visited another school which had hand driers, warm water and more room in their facilities.

Student leaders expressed to Mr Bell their want for better facilities with the current toilets having no warm water, broken locks and privacy issues, leading the students to brand the toilets as "unsafe".

The presentation prompted Mr Bell to put forward a motion to parliament this week requesting the state government to allow principals to manage maintenance projects up to $100,000 and engage local contractors.

Currently, maintenance works for public schools must be conducted through the Across Government Facilities Management Arrangement (AGFMA) which requires Ventia approved contractors.

Mr Bell expressed the difficulties regional schools had to engage with these contractors as well as the additional costs involved for travel and accommodation.

Mr Bell's motion was amended so that the state government could review the AGFMA and investigate whether it was possible for principals to do so.

Speaking with SA Today, Melaleuca Park Primary School student and school leader Evelyn said they were happy Mr Bell spoke about the issue in parliament.

"We wanted Mr Bell to come and see how bad the toilets were so he knew what we were dealing with," Evelyn said.

"We also wrote to Adam Box, Minister for Education Blair Boyer and Troy Bell as well as our principal Erica Hurley." Evelyn said the initiative started with school leaders but soon had the whole class on board to make more of an impact.

"There is no warm water in the toilets to wash our hands and the locks are broken so there are privacy issues and it is unsafe and unhygienic," she said.

"There are also cracks and we want better privacy and ventilation." She said the boys urinal was also old and tired and welcomed members of parliament or ministers to come and visit the school to see for themselves.

"We chose to write to Mr Bell because he is the representative for Mount Gambier so he could take the issue to parliament and we wrote to Mr Box because he is one of the education leaders in Mount Gambier," Evelyn said.

"As parents we want to be confident that our children are attending schools which meet the necessary standards and provide a safe and suitable learning environment, we want to ensure our children have equal access to resources and facilities regardless of where they go to school." He said after meeting with all the public schools in the area, he noticed a consistent theme throughout discussions that the gov"We want really safe, clean and hygienic toilets which are also ventilated." Mr Bell congratulated the students on their initiative during parliament this week noting how impressed he was with their leadership.

"We sat down to discuss what the students had been working on before completing a tour of the school and their facilities," Mr Bell said.

"What stood out to the students during their trip to Adelaide was the school they visited had nice, private and clean toilets that looked nothing like theirs." He said it was also explained to him how younger students could not reach the toilets in order to flush them and struggled to properly wash their hands.

Other issues highlighted to Mr Bell included the lack of privacy and how there was mould growing in the facilities.

Mr Bell also noted he had met with all principals of the public schools in Mount Gambier/Berrin and listened to other issues they were facing.

"What became very apparent to me was there are a lot of public schools looking tired and principals were explaining to me there was a huge cost of basic maintenance in regional areas," he said.

"We have got to get a better system and a better way." Mr Bell said every student deserved to learn in a safe, well maintained and equipped environment which played a "crucial role" in fostering academic achievement, student engagement and overall well being.

"Their physical environment fosters motivation, engagement and a sense of belonging which not only enhances their academic achievement it also contributes greatly to their emotional well being and fosters a sense of pride amongst students in their school," he said.

Government facilities management arrangement was not serving the regional schools.

Mr Bell said a school wanted to expand a fence to prevent a student from jumping over it, which was "a matter of urgency", but the school was quoted about $65,000 for the fencing through AGFMA, despite a local contractor quoting $2000.

"There has to be a more efficient way of spending our taxpayer dollars to maintain our government owned schools," Mr Bell said.

"A solution I am proposing is to tackle this issue by giving principals the authority and the tools they need to manage some of these maintenance issues themselves and engage local contractors." A South Australian government spokesperson said they acknowledged the concerns raised by Mr Bell about management of school maintenance in regional communities under the contract and "accordingly will support" a review of the current AGFMA contract.

The students will now work towards creating a three-dimensional model of what they want the toilet facilities to look like as part of their learning.