Extra activities threatened by lack of contributions

Extra curricular activities: School camps are among the scheduled events that may come under scrutiny if a drop off in voluntary contributions by parents continues for the second half of the school year. Photo by Contributed

A significant shift in the attitude of Victoria’s education department to volunteer parental contributions — formerly school fees — is threatening to reduce extra curricular activities that are offered to students in Campaspe schools.

Midway through the 2021 school year there was a change to the description of the contributions, with school administrators directed by the department to change the wording surrounding the annual contribution.

As a result, with a significant emphasis now placed on the “voluntary’’ component of the description, there has been a major reduction in the amount of parents choosing to contribute.

Parents from schools in Campaspe will have received correspondence in some form from their schools explaining how they can make a “voluntary financial contribution’’ to the school.

Most schools will attach a $200 plus price tag to that optional payment to the school.

Kate Whitford, now principal at Rochester Primary School, was previously in school leadership roles at Kyabram P-12 College.

She said the major change had been a department decision to alter what financial support schools were allowed to ask for.

“The direction came toward the end of last year. What we used to call school fees are now voluntary contributions,” she said.

This is a paragraph directly from the website: “You are not required to make payments or voluntary financial contributions to your school. Schools cannot refuse your child instruction in the standard curriculum if you do not contribute.’’

Schools remain able to charge for extra-curricular items and activities such as class photos, social events like formals and excursions.

The concern in the education community is that a significant drop in the amount of parents choosing to pay what, in essence, amount to school fees will mean less overall funds for the school to run events outside classroom activities.

Mrs Whitford said schools could only charge for something that is an actual activity.

“Something like a trip to Melbourne zoo, we can charge for that,” she said.

School fees, as parents of children from long gone times will refer to them, have always been voluntary.

"The big difference now is that schools are required to emphasise the voluntary contribution component in the description,”she said.

Unbeknown to many parents there was always a significant percentage of parents that chose not to pay the school contribution.

A couple of terms into the new year and the voluntary contribution scenario is again in the headlines, with schools having experienced a significant drop off in the financial support of parents.

They are now being forced to look to alternative capital raising ventures or a change to planned activities.

The education department decision comes off the back of a frustrating two years of COVID-19 and constant pressure on parents — many who suddenly became the key educator in their children’s lives.

An example of the change to one primary school that would normally invite parents to contribution $200 for each child is that now they can only charge $45 — for extra curricular activities.

Mrs Whitford said schools would be more considered in what they offered for camps and other major financial imposts.

“Schools may decide to stay closer to home, so the costs aren’t as great,” she said.

Mrs Whitford said an art excursion early last term which was paid for by the school was originally planned for one location, but a lower cost option was discovered and chosen instead of the first option

“Schools will need to do more fund raising or re-evaluate some scenarios,” she said.

The flexible manner in which parents are able to make voluntary payments remains in place, instalment or lump sum contributions still accepted by schools.

Meanwhile, Mrs Whitford said several school communities still chose to contribute voluntarily, understanding the difference it would make to their children’s school experience.

But, unfortunately, it appears as though schools — at least during the 2022 school year — will have a significantly decreased pool of funds from which to conduct their activities.