Pushing the boundaries

sara-catena-workshop-1We’re just days away from Splash and the excitement is mounting. Aside from the three-day art show, Splash has driven other artistic activities within the school. This week, Claire Bowers from the Splash organising committee tells us about artist Sara Catena’s second visit with grade fives. Continue reading

I’ve got a new name for Voluntary Contributions and I’m sure it will catch on


Right about now, you’ll be a receiving a reminder letter about Voluntary Contributions. It’s well timed (because June 30*, people).

I’d quite like to rebrand ‘Voluntary Contributions’. Yes, they are ‘voluntary’. Yes, they ‘contribute’ to the school’s budget. But what the name doesn’t reveal is this: that State Government funding does not provide all the funds needed to run a school. That the things that make a school a comfortable and fun place to be (such as new library books, cooling in the junior school building and the whiz-bang Apple TVs) rely on Voluntary Contributions.

So I’m thinking of an alternative name for Voluntary Contributions, something along the lines of ‘A Really Important Contribution That’s Put Toward Really Good Stuff for Your Kids and Although it’s Voluntary, it Would Be Really Good if You Paid it Promptly, Please’. I think it has a nice ring to it but accept it may require some editing… Continue reading

A welcome and a farewell…

Welcome to the last blog of 2013.

Principal Penson

First up, a big welcome to our new Principal, James Penson. We’ve had a few ups and downs on the Principal front in recent years so it’s great to finally have someone permanently in the role. I know staff and parents alike are very enthusiastic about James’ appointment and are looking forward to working with him next year.James_Penson

A big thank-you to Robin Grace for steering us through some very troubled waters during that time, and to Steven Donohue, our current acting Assistant Principal who’s been a breath of fresh air; we wish we could keep you.

Yesterday I checked in with James and asked if I could interview him for the KPS blog next year, so now’s your chance.  If you have any questions you’d like to ask him, email me. Nothing too scary though; we’d really like to keep this one.

And, in case you haven’t heard, James was the recipient of the Outstanding Primary Teacher Award for Victoria in 2008 which is pretty cool.JP

No pressure or anything, James…

Fees and Funding

And Big Ups too for Julie Coleman, Chair, Funding, Communication and Marketing sub-committee for her awesome efforts in procuring grants for the school this year. KPS received a $11,000 grant from the Bendigo Bank towards the running track, $1000 from the Local Leader for the kitchen garden, $1,200 from the Telstra Foundation for lighting the CARE Chairs and $1,500 from IBM for apple TVs.BB

And great job on the Lap-a-thon which raised $7,300, and Nikki McConnon who’s raised $3,500 from the second-hand uniform shop.

You may recall I wrote two blogs earlier in the year about fees. I was pretty shocked to learn that the government only provide 33% of our operational budget and that the rest has to be made up by our voluntary fees. At the time I wrote that blog we had collected 36% of the fees. I checked this week and our total for the year is 55%, so no Outstanding Award for us. Effectively this means the school is operating on just over half its required budget. Let’s hope we can do better next year.

A farewell: Emma Rush

By the time you read this Emma Rush will be heading back home to New Zealand after four years with us and there will be an empty space in the shelter sheds.  Emma has made a huge contribution to the school in that time. She’s been on School Council and worked as PTA liaison and been a class rep. She’s been a permanent feature of the second-hand uniform shop and a regular helper in the canteen.  She’s helped out with reading and literacy in classes, been on numerous excursions and helped with cross country, bike ed. and athletics carnivals, and been a guest blogger.P1050767

But more than that, Emma has made many, many friends in her time at KPS and will be greatly missed. Chin-up, Emma. No tears. We’ll see you in February. It’s been lovely having you around.

The Stats of Prep

Now to finish I am going to pass you over to Katrina Whelan who provided the blog’s funniest joke for the year (Make sure your kid can put on undies standing up…Prep Swimming)

Katrina has collated some interesting statistics on this year’s Preps:IMG_2599

1. Number of lunches made: 192

2. Number of days that kids didn’t have time to eat fruit but did have time to eat biscuits: 191

3. Number of kilograms of sand brought home from sandpit in school shoes: 54

4. Number of times preppies accidentally called their teacher ‘mum’: 782

5. Number of preppies that, at the beginning of the year, couldn’t do any maths but could count out the exact money for a slushy at the canteen: 61

6. Number of blisters on little hands after intense sessions on the monkey-bars: eleventy billion

7. Number of nit notices: eleventy billion

8. Number of lunchtimes spent in the shelter shed because hat was forgotten: 1 (you don’t make that mistake twice)

9. Number of days that preppies told their parents that they were ‘allowed’ to take football cards/ jewellery/ toys/ Lego to school because their teacher had said it was okay: 192

10. Number of days teachers said to preppies it was a good idea to bring football cards/ jewellery/ toys/ Lego to school: zero.

And one final note: since our humble beginnings twelve months ago, the KPS blog has had close to 10,000 views. Thanks for checking in each week.

See you all tomorrow night at the World Food and Music Peppercorn BBQ.

Have a great holiday.

Jacqui Tomlins

Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world. Vale Nelson Mandela.


Fees and funding follow-up

Last week I posted a blog about voluntary fees which prompted a lot of discussion. I think it’s been great to start a conversation amongst the school community about something that’s really important and that affects the future of our school.

In this week’s blog I’m going to try to summarise the conversations I’ve had, and the issues that have been raised with me over the last ten days. The range of opinion is broad, as you would expect, and I shall attempt to convey that range.

I’m also going to share some thoughts and ideas about how we, as a school community, can improve the situation in regard to voluntary fees and provide an even better learning experience for our kids.


I started this follow-up with a very interesting chat with Robin Grace about the demographic make-up of our school. While in many ways the Kew Primary demographic is similar to a number of surrounding schools, we are a little different from other school in the Boroondara area.

We are more culturally diverse than many, with over 22 nationalities in the school, and we have a slightly different socio-economic make-up. We have higher numbers of families on the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), a scheme of government financial assistance provided to low-income families.

We welcome a fairly constant flow of refugee families, families from local shelters and community housing and new arrivals to the country. We have a transient population of people coming from overseas and interstate, and we have a significant number of single parents and one-income families.

Robin estimates that these groups comprise somewhere around 15-20% of our school population. I’ll come back to this later.P1060418

It has been pointed out to me that last year many parents had to find extra funds to buy iPads and that this would have had an impact on people’s capacity to pay voluntary fees. Additional expenses were also incurred by some families who had to manage care of their children as a result of the teacher’s industrial action.

Some parents felt that it was important to acknowledge that families that weren’t in a position to pay their fees made a huge contribution to the school by volunteering for a broad range of activities instead.

A number or parents said they hadn’t paid their fees because they hadn’t got around to it/had forgotten/it had slipped below the radar and they were glad of the prompt to do so.

Some parents felt that the reason other schools had such a high contribution rate was because families at those schools were made to feel bad about not paying; that they were basically shamed into doing so. While there is certainly some support for this approach at Kew Primary, my sense is that the vast majority of people do not want to go down this path.

The low morale of the school in recent years, and a sense that the general communication between school and parents has not been as good as it might, were also cited as reason why people may not have paid.P1060407

So where does that leave us?

I think we need to acknowledge all of that and start talking about change and improvement. I think we should begin with a realistic expectation of what we can achieve. According to our Business Manager, Faye Pattie, while we have currently received about 36% of voluntary fees, in past years this has reached around 50% by December.

Let’s assume that 15-20% of families are not in a position to pay, and that another 5-10% may choose, for various reasons, not to pay. I think – and Robin agrees – that we should be aiming for collecting somewhere between 70- 75% of fees. That’s basically an increase of 25% and that may take more than one year to achieve.

So let’s start to think about how we can effect that change. I’ve come up with a few thoughts and I’d love people to comment/email with others.

  • Our new Acting Assistant Principal, Andrew Searle, mentioned that at his school information was provided to parents at various Prep information nights, which seems like a great idea.  An explanation of how the funding works very broadly could be given and some details about where voluntary fees have gone in the past and what they might be used for in the future.
  • It would be great to know on an on-going basis what the fees are being used for. The School Council President is going to put a notice in the newsletter once a term letting us know what the school is doing with the fees and how the kids are benefiting.
  • For those people who are able and willing to pay all their fees at the very beginning of Term 1, that’s fantastic; it means the school can budget and plan a little. But if not, how about you pay for your first child at the beginning of Term 1, your second child at the beginning  of Term 2, and your third and fourth, if you have them, at the beginning of Term 3 and Term 4. I think that might make it easier for some families who want to contribute, but who find it difficult to come up with multiple fees in one hit.
  • A new Funding, Communication and Marketing sub-committee of School Council, convened by Julie Coleman, has just been set up. One of the aims of the sub-committee is to look at the issue of communication and to develop a broad plan to address some of these issues. If you’re interested in being on the committee that would be great.  Just let me know and I’ll pass your name on.
  • The issue of morale is bigger and on-going and there is no easy fix. My sense of this from talking to people is that, as a school community, we are finally able to leave the past behind and move on, and that people are feeling much better about the direction the school is heading. Of course, until DEECD resolve the issue once and for all and we can finally employ a new and permanent Principal, morale will remain an issue.  But we do have a strong and stable leadership team for the time being.P1060421

I started this discussion a couple of weeks ago by confessing I hadn’t paid my fees. I am one of those people who can afford it and haven’t because I’m slack. So this week I am going to pay the four levies for one of my kids: (Library Fund, $75, Grounds and Oval Maintenance, $65, Building Fund, $100, and Technology Support and Maintenance, Levy $50). In Term 3, I will pay for my second child, and in Term 4, for my third.

It’s not an easy issue this one, and there is a broad range of opinion. For me, I know that the school can’t do everything it needs on the money it currently receives and so I’m happy to pay. I know that my contribution will go some way to improving the daily experience for the kids and that’s important to me.

I saw a great quote this week:  I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realised I was somebody. Lily Tomlin

Jacqui Tomlins

Fees, funding and our future

I have a confession to make; a proper one, a serious one. I’ve kept quiet about it until now and when the topic’s come up in the playground I’ve just kept my head down. And when the last lot of paperwork came home, I just slid it to the bottom of the pile.

But no more. I’m going to deal with this once and for all. I’m finally going to come out. So here it is: I haven’t paid my voluntary school fees. And it’s not just because I’ve haven’t got around to it yet; I didn’t pay them last year either. I used to pay quite consistently, but somewhere along the line – for reasons I can’t even remember – I stopped.

And then recently the subject came up again and it got me thinking. I haven’t the faintest idea how the funding works for our school. What we get from the government and what that covers. What the voluntary fees actually go towards. How many of us pay them and how many don’t. No clue.

So, I thought I would put on my investigative blogger hat and go find out some answers to these questions. This is what I discovered: prepare for a bumpy ride.

The funding we get from the State and Federal government covers the salaries paid to our staff which is broadly calculated on a per-capita basis – set amount of money for each child. We also get funding for general operational expenses which cover some classroom resources, some building and maintenance and some cleaning, but there’s a shortfall in all those areas. We get some money to cover relief teachers when staff are sick, but again, not enough.

In fact – and I was pretty shocked by this – government funding represents only 33% of our operational budget. That’s all. We have to make up the rest with our voluntary fees and if we don’t, things don’t get done, or the kids just miss out.

We don’t get funding to cover any kind of staff professional development, excursions, extra-curricular activities or sporting events. We don’t get money for any kind of major refurbishment or for replacing stuff that packs up or falls down. Apparently, we’ve already spent the amount the government has given us for this year for building and maintenance.

The voluntary fees are separated into four categories: Building Fund, Library Fund, Technology Support and Maintenance Levy, Grounds and Oval Maintenance Levy. Currently, we are down on all of these by pretty significant amounts:

Building Fund: -$31,000

Library Fund: -$23,000

Technology Support and Maintenance Levy: -$15,000

Grounds and Oval Maintenance Levy: -$20,000

Basically what this means is that we are currently about $90,000 short on what we need for the school to function properly in all these areas.

This problem is compounded by the fact that last year our payment of voluntary fees was our worst ever! Obviously, there’s a cumulative effect which, over time, has a huge impact on what we can achieve.

Now, the most interesting thing I discovered is that to date 36% of the voluntary fees have been collected at Kew Primary. I wondered how this compared to other schools and did a quick check of Eastern suburb primary schools with similar fees. South Camberwell, Chatham and Mont Albert collect about 95% of their voluntary fees each year, and East Kew, about 90%. Ouch! That’s a huge difference.

The disparity between us and those other schools surprised me to be honest and I started to think about why that might be. I’m going to speculate here, but I think we’ve gotten into a kind of downward spiral, a negative mind-set; the school’s had a very rough ride over the past couple of years and I think that may have had an impact. Somehow we need to put the brakes on and start spiralling upwards again.

So where has the money gone in the past?

The old sandpit had become toilet-of-choice for the extended family of possums living in the roof of the junior school hall and was quickly becoming a major health hazard. It was dirty and unhealthy and needed to go. The cost of removing the sandpit and putting new bitumen down in its place was $26,000. The lovely new sandpit was funded entirely out of money raised by the PTA ($16,000). P1060090
The canteen was also struggling to keep up with Occupational Health and Safety standards with wonky shelves and cracked bench tops and old unreliable equipment. The canteen refurbishment cost $28,000.P1050810

The electrics in the library had long since given up the ghost and were in desperate need of replacement. The removal of walls, relocation of shelving, and painting throughout cost approximately $15,000.

And if I pay all my fees this year, where will the money go?

In the first instance, the voluntary fees will go towards making up the huge shortfall between what the government provides, and what we need to pay for the basic operational costs of running the school.

The school is doing a great job of adopting new technologies and making sure our kids are well educated in this area and equipped to meet the challenges they’ll face in high school and beyond. However, the data infrastructure of the school is old and antiquated and already can’t cope with the volume of data the school currently uses. We need to upgrade this urgently.P1050881

Last term one of the teachers told me quietly that it was almost impossible to get anything done in the afternoons because the kids were all melting like icy poles. Our new building is awesome, but there’s no air-conditioning and that’s something the government will never fund, and the PTA would have to sell an awful lot of sausages to cover it. If we could get close to collecting the same percentage of money as those other local schools, we might have a chance of funding some air-conditioning.

The data projector in the library needs to be replaced, the computers are very out of date, and there are a lot of books that look oddly familiar to ones I read forty years ago. Oh and we need some new furniture.

Someone suggested recently that it would be great to have a proper running track. Nice idea.

So now that I’ve come clean, I’m still not promising to stump up four different levies (for three kids) this week, but I’m going to make a start. I read an article in The Age a while back about how some schools are closing their libraries and replacing them with ‘technology research centres,’ or some such horror. Books and reading are important to me and I want my kids to have a great library that’s well-resourced so I’m going to start by paying the Library Fund.

Both the Building and Library Fund are tax-deductible and a few parents have mentioned to me that they plan to get those paid before June 30th.

I think our school’s in a good place right now, but imagine how much better it could be – and how much it would benefit our kids – if those of us who can, paid our voluntary fees.


Jacqui Tomlins